A family fights for survival in the extraordinary "Minari," and you will love every one of them.
I've resisted TikTok, but I'd join if tiny Alan S. Kim, who plays a precocious child named David, posted videos there. With a cherubic face and a comeback for everything, the first-time actor makes a huge impression in "Minari," which is named for a Korean vegetable that grows wild on the shores of creeks. David has heart issues, so his family worries about him but he frequently breaks away to explore, wandering bright green forests in high athletic socks, tiny cowboy boots, a yellow tank top and white-ribbed blue gym shorts.
David's dad Jacob (Steven Yeun) mom Monica (Yeri Han) and sister Anne (Noel Cho) have moved, warily, to Arkansas in search of a new life. The idea is to start a vegetable farm, but the dirty, remote trailer in which they must live and the rough jobs they find (sexing baby chicks) have Monica thinking of bailing on her husband until he agrees to fly in her mother from South Korea to help care for the kids. (The movie, a big winner at last year's Sundance Film Festival and a favorite for this year's Oscars, is American-made but most of it is in subtitled Korean.)
"I don't like Grandma," David announces almost immediately, but audiences will love Yuh-jung Youn's incredibly appealing performance. She's profane, direct and a little bit lazy and, although it takes some time for the kids to warm to her, they grow to appreciate the fact that she's a good sport (even when David replaces her beloved Mountain Dew with a less delicious fluid — yup, that one), and that she treats them with the same respect she accords their parents.
Writer/director Lee Isaac Chung's movie is character-based and observant. The minari, which Grandma says "grows everywhere," is both a wistful reminder of Korea and a hopeful sign that Arkansas could be hospitable to the family. There's a tense but lovely scene involving a potentially deadly fire that reveals unexpected things about several of the characters. And all the tiny details — for instance, a dust-up between Jacob and Monica that the eavesdropping kids interrupt by flying in paper airplanes with the words "Don't fight" written on them — feel exactly right.
"Minari" achieves beauty with its visuals — even if Arkansans aren't always welcoming to the family, the sunny skies, green fields and melodious birdsong tell a different story — and in its narrative. Chung based the story on his own Arkansas childhood, and it feels attuned to both the possibility of a better life and the hazards of trying to build something from scratch.
It's a tougher story, but there's a bit of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie" in "Minari," which also is a nostalgic tale about a pioneering family learning that, in tough times, their biggest allies are each other.
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367
⋆⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for disturbing elements.
Where: Showplace Icon, A24 Screening Room (screeningroom.a24films.com) or on demand Feb. 26.