• 17 Oct - 23 Oct, 2020
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After having left Korea and then failing to make it in California, the family of four with mostly Americanised names – father Jacob, mother Monica, daughter Soonj and little son David – finds itself in an oversised prefab home in an otherwise seemingly uninhabited rural area. Mom and, briefly, Dad get the most meager jobs imaginable, separating male and female baby chicks in a factory barn, but they’ve come all this way because Jacob firmly believes he can grow lots of crops on his 50 acres and find success as a farmer.

With no other options in view, Monica has little choice but to put up with it, but she’s nearly at the end of her rope. Despite minor discomforts, the kids are far more game, even with the lack of neighbours; kids can always find ways to amuse themselves.

Changing the household dynamic in a helpful way is the arrival of Grandma, who provides excellent company for the kids and serves as a useful triangulating buffer between the parents, who aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on anything. Film’s director, Lee Isaac Chung, spends more time with the youngsters and the old-timer than seems genuinely necessary, but these are among the film’s best scenes, at once droll, impudent and true-to-life.

Whenever Jacob and Monica are alone together, they occupy one of the less severe levels of hell. Knowing all too well how he’s thus far failed to properly provide for his family, Jacob can say very little until his current agricultural gamble pays off, if indeed it does. In a rather melodramatic development, young David has a potentially serious medical condition that may demand money they don’t have. Jacob has no reassuring words he can honestly or convincingly say to his wife to make her feel better; only time will tell.

Some significant new adversity – the last thing this family needs – provides an anchor for the third-act climax; given the severity of their setbacks, the film is insufficiently clear about showing how the family crisis is resolved.

All the same, the charming low-key humour and the actors are all winning without being coy or cutesy. Minari is a modest pic but very human and accessible, and quite distinctively so in comparison to the vast majority of high-concept and/or violent movies rolling out today.