in Oscars Fortnight

Minari (2020)

The 93rd Academy Awards (2021)
Nominations: 6
Wins: 1

I wanted to close out our fortnight with something from this year’s batch of Best Picture nominees, and since Colin already reviewed Nomadland, it really had to be Minari. This has been a long time coming, as Minari has been on my radar since is debuted at Sundance way back in January 2020. Typically I’m able to see the “big deal” indie movies at least sometime in the December-January awards catch-up season, but given the on-going situation this movie wasn’t something I could see until it hit virtual cinemas in February. That was such a long time to spend listening to critics hype it up that I almost resented it and dragged my feet to finally watch the movie. But boy am I glad I finally did.

Sometime in the mid-Eighties (Reaganomics are mentioned), Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) moves his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri), daughter Anne (Noel Kate Cho), and son David (Alan Kim, acting for the first time) from the west coast to a plot of land in rural Arkansas. He sees this as his and his wife’s chance to escape their jobs sexing chicken and live the American dream by becoming farmers. However, Monica (Han Ye-ri) is skeptical, and especially worried that their David, who has a heart condition, is living so far from a hospital. A compromise is reached when Monica’s mother, Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung), is brought out from South Korea to live with the family and keep an eye on the children during the day.

David’s relationship with his grandmother is rocky at first, as they have to share a room and she does not match up with his expectations of an American grandma who bakes and doesn’t swear. However, they begin to bond thanks to Soon-ja’s persistence, especially when she takes him and Anne to plant a type of Korean water celery called minari in a creek. Meanwhile, Jacob hires a man named Paul (Will Patton) to help him on the farm after Paul explains that he was a Korean War veteran. The two form an unusual friendship, but hiring the town weirdo (Paul spends his Sundays dragging a cross up a dirt road) does little to assuage Monica’s misgivings or relieve the strain on the Yi’s marriage.

It’s always an ominous sign when a movie opens with a father dragging his unwilling family to live in a new, remote location. Fortunately, Minari is more than a movie about a family being tested by a series of tragic setbacks (it is that, it’s just also more than that). It’s a story about inner strength, that uniquely American ability to believe in yourself when no one else does. That’s America’s most intoxicating quality, the reason most of us born here stay here and so many more choose to come. The American dream, at it’s best, it inspires optimism and helps people accomplish the impossible. At it’s worst, it leads people down a dark road that will become impossible to turn from. So is Jacob’s stubbornness his greatest strength or weakness?

Minari was nominated for six Academy Awards and Youn Yuh-jung made history tonight as the first South Korean person to win in an acting category. I was happy to see Steven Yeun was also nominated, a love to watch as his star continues to rise. Of course, the big awards controversy surrounding Minari was that it was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, which it won. This was based on the Globes’ rule that having “over 50% of its dialogue not in English” makes it a Foreign Language Film. Which is a weird distinction for the Hollywood Foreign Press to be making. The United States does not have an official language, so choosing to segregate an American film for not being predominantly English-language goes against our national character. Or at least it goes against the America Hollywood told me I should fight for.