Minari is one of those rare films that i went into having absolutely no idea what it was about. I knew it was in a mix of English and Korean, but that’s it. That being said, Minari was nominated for Best Picture among other things, and that meant my expectations were a little higher than normally for a film I had no idea about.
Minari is a slow, ponderous film. Neither of those terms are a negative, they’re more of a warning. This isn’t a tense thriller or a laugh a minute comedy, although it has moments of tension and levity. Minari invites you in to be a fly on the wall in this young Korean family as they move from California to Arkansas.
Essentially the plot of this film is basic, it’s a family struggling to adapt to their new lives for a variety of reasons. There is a mundane feel to things, much like real life, punctuated by moments of more exciting moments. These moments are strange for me to watch as they feel so real. You believe you are just watching a kid and his grandmother bickering back and forth. It’s bizarre to watch as there isn’t anything that gets your pulse racing, but it’s really quite engrossing.
The film is a nice, interesting story, but it’s elevated to the Best Picture levels by the performances of it’s lead actors. Steven Yuen and Yeri Han play the young couple and they do a phenomenal job of bring the characters to life. Their ability to convey emotions and thoughts without saying a word is displayed in a couple of great emotional moments. Steven Yuen deserves him nomination and at this point the fact Yeri Han isn’t nominated for Lead actress seems outrageous.
Alongside Yeri Han, and this time actually getting the nomination is Youn Yuh-Jung, who plays the grandmother. She brings a different energy to the film, which then flips at a certain point and she is fantastic either side of that moment. Her relationship with the young boy is the heart of a film all about family dynamic’s and the connection between the members of the family.
Minari is a film I appreciated more than enjoyed. It never really hooked me, but the entire time I felt like I was watching real people in real situations and that’s something special in itself. I don’t think it’ll win best picture, but I understand why it’s nominated because the overall package is more than the sum of it’s parts. The incredible performances take the humdrum story and turn it into very well crafted piece of cinema that critics will love.
Good: The performers deliver in a big way, and the brilliant score matches the tone of the film at every turn.
Bad: Slow pace may turn off some, and it’s felt very much like an actor’s film. It will perhaps feel a little to “real” for some audience members to be engaged with.
TL;DR : Minari is lifted to lofty heights by some truly incredible performances.