Is it any surprise that after almost four years of hatemonger Trump’s dangerous and divisive presidency, the most powerful films being released at the end of his reign of terror are about outsiders struggling to find a place to fit in the tattered fabric of this country?
These include both period and contemporary pieces such as “First Cow,” “Uncle Frank,” “Nomadland,” “The Forty-Year-Old Version,” “Swallow” and Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” (A24).
Korean immigrant Jacob (Steven Yeun) wants to make a better life for himself, his wife Monica (Yeri Han), their 7-year-old son David (Alan S. Kim) and their slightly older daughter Anne (Noel Cho). To do so, he relocates the four of them from California to Arkansas in the 1980s. He swaps a job sexing and sorting chicks at a hatchery for another one doing the same thing. He’s good at it and fast. Monica wasn’t, however, but as he tells her, she will be fast enough for Arkansas.
Additionally, Monica wasn’t 100% thrilled with the move. She makes this abundantly clear when they arrive at their new residence, a trailer home up on cinder blocks in the middle of nowhere. The expression on her face says it all.
But Jacob has big plans and a vision that includes farming, specifically growing Korean vegetables for the other families like his who have settled in the nearby city. This doesn’t do much to assuage Monica’s fear which includes concerns about David who has a heart murmur, and the closest hospital is at least an hour away.
Regardless, Monica makes an effort to settle into their new home. She takes care of the house. She watches over David, monitors his heart rate and blood pressure, prays with him. She goes to work with Jacob at the hatchery. She finds a church for them to join. Jacob, on the other hand, is focused on finding water for his irrigation system. He buys a tractor from Paul (Will Patton), a religious fanatic who speaks in tongues and performs exorcisms. Wacky though he may be, Paul is of great help to Jacob when it comes to planting and harvesting.
At the center of it all is David. His well-being remains a point of focus, as well as strife, for his parents. Jacob suggests bringing Monica’s mother Soonja (Yuh-jung Youn) to look after David and Anne while they are at work. She’s a firecracker and the scenes between her and David, as he gets over his initial shyness in her presence and their bond becomes the strongest one in the family, are sources of delight.
Still, there are rising tensions, some of which seem insurmountable. Monica is preparing to leave Arkansas and return to California with the kids. Jacob’s farming situation blooms then encounters snags. David’s health begins to improve as Soonja’s takes an unexpected turn for the worse, while another devastating tragedy lurks in the distance.
Seamlessly alternating between moments of laugh-out-loud humor and tear-jerking sadness, it won’t take long for “Minari” (which gets its title from the Korean green that Soonja plants along a creek near the farm) to grow on you.
Screen Savor is a weekly column from SFGN’s film critic Gregg Shapiro. Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.