The American Dream has been on my mind for a while now.
As we experience such a seismic shift in our political landscape and re-evaluate our national identity, stories about the American Dream, the central ethos of American identity, feel necessary. America’s immigrant story is a much-loved and heavily praised tradition, often depicted in pop culture and political campaigns. While there is much debate over whether the American Dream is achievable now, or even honest, the ethos can still build bridges by telling empathetic immigrant stories. Minari is a masterpiece example of the American Dream, showing the challenges of achieving the American Dream and the sacrifices made along the way.
Semi-autobiographical of the director Lee Isaac Chung’s childhood, Minari is about the Yi Family, who moved to Arkansas to start a farm at Jacob Yi’s (Steven Yeun) behest. The film addresses the expected cross-culture conflicts in this type of story, but Chung wisely focuses more on the struggles of just doing what they’re trying to do, start a new life. He understands that life can be challenging enough, especially making such a radical shift moving and starting a farm. Chung avoids melodrama by revealing the struggles of this family and the understandable anxiety of starting a new life. The characters’ motivations are understandable and fleshed out. You completely understand where everyone’s coming from, even if you disagree with the decisions they make.
The performances are all excellent; I can barely mention a standout because they are all terrific. Steve Yeun gives an incredibly layered performance as Jacob, showing both the excitement of moving forward with his dream alongside the struggle putting on a positive face for his family. His stress and frustration feel natural; not once did I question why he’d act a certain way. While it’s easy to empathize with Jacob, it’s also easy to see how his actions can be interpreted as selfish. Yeun’s natural charm transcends Jacob’s character, keeping us on board even during his more selfish moments, helped by his intensity as Jacob gets more desperate. The self-awareness of Jacob’s more negative attitudes is where Monica comes in, played by Han Ye-ri. She also gives a nuanced performance, as it’s easy to get the sense that she’s at the end of her rope supporting Jacob. She clearly does love him, but her frustration is apparent and has been building for some time. The kids are also great, giving natural and funny performances, and the grandmother Soonja, played by Youn Yuh-jung is hysterical. I genuinely love her. She’s so charismatic; she feels like the lead in a totally separate movie.
Minari is a film where you feel like you just shared a wonderful moment with new people. It’s loving, heartwarming, heartbreaking, and relatable even in its darkest moments. Throughout the tidalwave of emotions I felt throughout the film, in the end I just felt happy. I was happy I could connect with these people, I was happy I could be with them and share in their life. Minari is my favorite type of movie, one that shows the power of film to connect you with other people. This is a film with no heroes or villains, just people trying to live, and that makes it inspiring.
The film hits theater this Friday.