Of the many decisions made for the 93rd Academy Awards, the shift away from running clips of films seemed like the most bizarre according to vocal viewers online. Whether it was for technical awards or the top six, not running clips to highlight the nominees in their respective categories appeared like a misstep as many of the nominated films might be totally unknown to the general public in a cinematic year (2020 – Feb 2021) that was odder than most. While general audiences might have been able to see the heavily nominated Judas and the Black Messiah or Nomadland thanks to streaming on HBO Max or Hulu simultaneous to their theatrical releases, but what about other nominees like The Father (which didn’t get a wider release until March 2021) or Minari (February 2021)? An awards show like the Oscars does primarily cater to movie insiders, but there’s an opportunity there to showcase the films Academy members believe to be the best of the year. Personally, no film nominated during the 2021 Oscars was as moving as writer/director Lee Isaac Chung’s (Lucky Life) Minari, produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B, distributed by A24, and getting a home release thanks to Lionsgate. Though only Yuh-Jung Youn (Beasts Clawing at Straws) earned a well-deserved Oscar for her supporting role, the film is, top-to-bottom, a marvel in its adapted recreation of a Chung’s childhood. It’s a film that I saw in November 2020 and continue to ruminate on as a specific tale of immigrants pursuing the American Dream that’s also a universal tale of familial love.
Set in the 1980s, Minari follows Jacob (Steven Yeun) as he moves his family (wife Monica (Yeri Han), daughter Anne (Noel Cho), and son David (Alan Kim)) from California to Arkansas in pursuit of his dream: to operate a farm. It’s a move that removes them from a community they felt established in and jobs that made their lives fairly comfortable in order to risk everything on a plot of land and an idea. Monica and Jacob are at odds on this project, but stress seems to lift somewhat when Monica’s mother, Soonja (Youn), travels from Korea to come live with them. As three generations come live in a single-wide trailer, dreams and reality intersect in unexpected ways.
I’m on record with my affection for Minari and my desire for it to have won the Best Picture category. Why? Simply put, it’s a story that’s as specific as it is universal. Setting aside the obviously complicated nature of the original settlers and the decades of condemnation of the Indigenous peoples (that’s a lot to ignore), moving one’s family in pursuit of achieving a long-held dream is perfectly in line with the ideation of America, of how it was seen by immigrants, of how they viewed the infinite possibilities, looking to the horizon, not for riches or fame, but for something better for themselves and their families. My great-grandfather, Joseph Davidson, is one such immigrant, coming to the United States as a young man and working his way from small jobs to owning his clothier’s business. Chung has candidly spoken about his own experience with his family while doing press for Minari, recognizing that time and maturing offered him the ability to see his childhood differently. For us, that means we get to witness a version of the isolation, the fear, the promise, and the jubilation of Chung’s father trying to make good for him and his family. Considering Chung is a fairly well-established filmmaker whose next project is an adaptation of the beloved Japanese animated film Your Name., it’s reasonable to think the film has a happy ending. To his credit, life so rarely has such a defined button and neither does Minari. By the end, the audience doesn’t know what’s to come for Jacob and Monica, a couple headed in opposite directions, Soonja post-stroke, or the children. We only know that love goes on, despite the unexpected set-backs. Perhaps, more than anything, this may be why the film resonates so strongly: there is a persistent hope in every frame. A hope for the next generation. A hope that the bonds of family can bear any strain. A hope that rebuilding is easier because you know the path already. It’s not a false celluloid-type hope, either, one generated solely to attract acclaim and accolades. It’s pure and honest, unfiltered in its presentation and storytelling.
Considering the positive energy Minari possessed headed into the 2021 Academy Awards, I am surprised to say that the home release is rather sparse. There are only two deleted scenes which run a total of three minutes, and a single featurette, “Sowing Seeds: Making Minari,” that’s just over 13 minutes. The deleted scenes only offer a moment of Jacob teaching the kids about chicken sexing and Will Patton’s Paul at dinner with Jacob’s family; neither explain or explore anything more that would’ve benefited the story, hence their removal from the film. The featurette offers a chance to hear from the principal crew like Chung, Yeun (who also served as producer), producer Christina Oh, the members of the cast, production designer Yong Ok Lee, and more, opening up the process of making the film in wonderful ways. It’s especially interesting to learning about the details you may never have noticed, like the specific drawer liner that Monica uses when they move into the trailer. If you know, you know. These fascinating nuggets only serve as appetizers to the real riches found in the feature-length audio commentary from Chung and Youn. Recorded via Zoom, the two discuss details big, small, and tangential about the making of the film. For instance, Chung mentions a deleted scene absent from this release, so there may be even more removed footage that could be available but was, for some reason, not included here. Of the details they discuss, it’s lovely to learn how much of the crew’s family are involved in the film. Chung’s father played an extra, the Korean grocer we meet at the end of the film is Oh’s father, and there are evidently others strewn throughout the film. There’s also a delightful but bittersweet story regarding Chung’s father not wanting the minari planted in the film going to waste and traveling by truck to go harvest what he could. One of the more beautiful shots capturing a pensive Jacob smoking at dusk? A happy accident as Yeun went to go see what was being filmed and stopped for a smoke break. The setup was so lovely, Chung had to capture it for the film. Oh, and this will only make sense if you watch the commentary, but, HI DOUG!! The film may not come with much, but the stories you get from Chung and Youn are worth rewatching the film just for their stories.
Minari may not seem universal to general audiences due to the very nature of the film’s primary use of subtitles, but it is as accessible as it gets. The performances from the cast are so perfect, the circumstances so divine, you could watch the film without the subtitles and understand their relationships, their needs, and their struggles. It’s a tale so universal that you will bask in their victories like they are your own and your heart will shatter at the losses. More than anything, if you’re a parent or grandparent, you’ll recognize the complexities of what it takes to provide for the next generation, that nothing comes simply, and it often means sacrificing more than money to go after a dream. Sometimes it means risking losing the very people you wish to provide for. There’s a gracious sorrow present, one which hits home with each watch, but it’s not all sadness. Not when the elixir of life (Mountain Dew) is readily available. Just make sure you pour your own cup and not have it brought to you by a precocious child or grandchild. Then you’ll never know what you’ll get.
Minari Special Features
- Two(2) Deleted Scenes (3:19)
- Sowing Seeds: Making Minari (13:25)
- Audio Commentary with Writer-Director Lee Isaac Chung and Actress Yuh-jung Youn
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital beginning May 18th, 2021.
For more information, head to A24’s official Minari website.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.