Minari ★★★★

A tender, fictionalized memoir anchored by two stellar performances, Minari follows a young Korean couple who moves with their two children from California to start a small farm in 1980s Arkansas. Well, at least the father, Jacob (Steven Yeun), starts the farm—it was his idea—while the mother, Monica (Yeri Han), works at a hatchery and keeps a close eye on their young son, David (Alan S. Kim), who has been diagnosed with a weak heart. Yeun and Han negotiate this tension brilliantly, balancing big arguments with tentative affection. As good as they are together, each especially shines in their own, individual, nonverbal moments during a family visit to a doctor. Hearing unexpected good news, Monica can only express a stunned sort of relief, and Han communicates a wealth of repressed emotion. (“Yes, I’m happy,” she eventually manages.) Jacob, meanwhile, blunders into an examination room carrying a bulky box of produce that he is afraid to leave in the car. Recognizing that it suggests he cares more about his crops than his son, he turns his face aside, which Yeun casts with the shadow of shame. Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung, who based the film on his own childhood, brings a golden-light lyricism to even the more difficult scenes, while Emile Mosseri’s delicate score supports Jacob’s naive claim that the family has found their own “garden of Eden.” Speaking of religion, three different expressions of Christianity appear in the film: the family’s own faith, demonstrated mainly in the bedtime prayers of Monica and David; a homey evangelical church they attend; and a Pentecostal-like laborer (Will Patton) who works for Jacob, speaks in tongues, and spends his Sundays dragging a full-size cross down a dusty road. The latter is maybe the movie’s only real misstep; an actor like Patton doesn’t need that sort of encouragement. Minari is better when hitting softer notes.

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