MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
When I was a child, I was taught in middle school that America was a big melting pot in which a diversity of different cultures and languages were blended into something really special. When I became an adult, I put an end to such childish notions and came to realize that the very best of America is found when we allow each culture, language and ethnicity to flourish and sing their songs in their own language.
Minari tells the story of the Yi family, Jacob (Yuen), Monica (Han), and their two children Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and 6-year-old David (Alan S. Kim). While they first are part of a Korean community in California, Jacob has dreams of becoming a farmer and growing distinctive Korean vegetables (including minari, also known as water celery). He purchases 50 acres in a small town in Arkansas and moves the family into a trailer that they will call their home while they begin their new life. Now the Yi family are outsiders in a white rural setting and Jacob will have to persuade his wife and children that farming is a worthwhile endeavor. This will be a bit of a challenge, since finding a source of water to irrigate the crops is no easy task. And then there’s the added drama of Monica’s mother Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn), who comes to live with them. The kids have never met Grandma, but she has some definite ideas about how to run things.
Writer-director Chung based this film on his own childhood memories, and that’s what makes Minari really special. While it is only natural to want to focus on Jacob and Monica’s relationship (which is honestly depicted), this is really David’s story about growing up; he is the central character. It’s great to have this childlike perspective on things, for it is naturally optimistic and joyful.
The film is refreshingly positive about the family’s Christian faith and the importance of church. There is an early scene during fellowship time after worship in which another kid claims to be able to speak Korean and then blurts out racially insensitive nonsense. It is a moment of innocent blasphemy; no offense is taken and the kids set up a playdate. The congregation is otherwise wholly accepting and inclusive of the Yis. An evangelical neighbor (Will Patton) occasionally carries a heavy wooden cross down the road as an act of repentance; this is depicted without judgement.
This is simply a lovely movie filled with love, warmth and humor. The children’s relationship with the grandmother is honest and delightful, with plenty of sass and backtalk between Soonja and David.
It is unfortunate that Minari is being treated as a foreign language film, since it deserves to be freed from that limited subcategory. It’s definitely a family-friendly film for middle-schoolers and older to enjoy. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to be a high-ticket rental for a while before it’s picked up by a streaming service and released on DVD. Still, if you can pop your own corn and gather the family together around the flat screen, I think that you will find that this is twenty dollars well spent.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A positive and hope-filled story of the American Dream, filtered through the eyes of a Korean family.
One pitchfork: Subtitled mild swearing and insults, some cruel practical jokes.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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