Glasgow Film Festival Opening Night: Minari
Stars: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan S. Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Yuh-jung Youn, Will Patton
The Glasgow Film Festival gets off to a slightly muted start with this solid, but rote family drama.
The Korean-American Yi family have just moved to a mobile home in rural Arkansas from California. Father Jacob (Yeun) hopes to grow Korean vegetables there to cater to the burgeoning urban Korean population. Initially he and his wife Monica (Han) must work sexing chicks at a local hatchery, the same work they did in California. Monica does not share Jacob’s optimism and worries about their children, young son David (Kim, very good) who has a heart condition and the slightly older daughter Anne (Cho).
Jacob accepts the help of the wildly eccentric Christian neighbour Paul (Patton), while Monica’s brusque mother Soonja (Youn) is summoned from Korea to help raise the kids. At first David resists the strange old woman, but they later bond while planting the titular vegetable.
Jacob’s inability to source water for his planting projects causes real tension between he and Monica, who wants to take the family back to California, and their unhappiness begins to affect the children.
While director Chung, who grew up in Arkansas, exhibits an appealing generosity of spirit to his characters, newcomers and locals alike, the functional depiction of quotidian rural life feels a little drab where some Terrence Malick-style flourishes might have helped. And while the script refreshingly subverts can-do American tropes, it also adheres to conventional beats, down to the inevitable cathartic conclusion.
Yeun is very impressive indeed with an admirably internalised performance that conveys Jacob’s growing frustration, and Will Patton is affecting as the supportive neighbour, partly motivated by sincere Christian charity, but also it’s suggested by a desperate sense of loneliness and need to connect. The female characters are not so well-served, with Monica sour and shrewish for the most part, despite a soulful turn from Han, and Youn’s no-nonsense granny, while fun, borders on the stereotypical.
Minari will be released on 19th March
David Willoughby Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm