Minari is the rare combination of technically stunning filmmaking married with heartwarming and raw storytelling, which is all the more impressive in a bilingual film. As a sum unit, Minari is the best cast movie of this season, even outshining Mank in one of its few redeeming qualities. Steven Yeun, Yuh-Jung Youn, and newcomer Alan S. Kim were phenomenal, and the rest of the cast, including Yeri Han and Will Patton, brought intense emotional depth to the quiet bucolic setting of the story.
As an outsider, I can’t speak to the true impact of the immigrant story, but it feels “authentic” in a way that few other major motion pictures have in a long time, which is refreshing. As a companion experience, I would recommend reading this review by Hannah Amris Roh from The Los Angeles Review of Books for a better analysis of the portrayal of Korean-American experience.
What I can speak to is the portrayal of the setting, and Minari nails the feel of the rural mid-South. When I was about the same age as Kim’s character, David, my grandparents moved to a farm in middle Tennessee. Director Lee Isaac Chung and cinematographer Lachlan Milne nailed the look and feel of the region.
The sights and sounds they put on screen made me feel as if I could smell the burning diesel of the tractor as Yeun tilled the garden and the earthy scent of mud as they dug the well. I could feel the humidity of the room in the local church service and the mix of fear and readiness as they rode out the storm while watching the local weatherman for what counties were under tornado warning versus tornado watch.
Minari is, at its core, a story about putting down roots in a new land, both literally and metaphorically; its true genius lies in how it both gets the immigrant story right while at the same time painting one of the most accurate on-screen pictures of the South in a long time.