Film: “Minari,” directed by Lee Isaac Chung (from 2021)
Grandmas are special. Grandmas who are immigrants are even more so. They may not understand English so well, or more often than not grasp what you’re doing or even why you’re doing it. But their impact on you will last forever. (I know this for a fact. Trust me.)
In “Minari,” a Korean grandmother (Youh Yuh-jung) arrives from the old country to live with her daughter Monica (Han Ye-ri) and the daughter’s family in rural Arkansas. And just in time. Seems the family is having challenges adjusting to their new life in what Monica disparagingly calls “Hillbilly land,” which includes living in a mobile home (“on wheels”) and line jobs as “chicken sexers,” ie separating male from female baby chicks for a large commercial hatchery.
Jacob, Monica’s husband (Steven Yuen), wants out of this rut. He is determined to start a 50-acre farm growing Korean vegetables. He starts plowing and planting with the help of an eccentric local farmer (Will Patton) who lugs around a large wooden crucifix every Sunday, and every other day of the week drives out evil spirits by speaking in tongues. Jacob’s young son David (Alan Kim) needs constant oversight, as he has a heart murmur. Monica meanwhile hates her isolated existence in Arkansas and wants to go back to California.
Directed by Lee Isaac Chung, this lovely, bittersweet film chronicles the family’s tribulations but there’s still room for fun. Particularly on Grandma’s end, as she has a sense of humor, loves watching WWE wrestling on TV and swigs down Mountain Dew, all the while trying hard to make David warm up to her (“You don’t act like a grandma,” he tells her right to her face.)
For those curious about the title, minari is Korean watercress, which Grandma plants in a riverbed because it “grows anywhere.” If you can’t see the metaphor here, you need a refresher course in American Lit 101. And even if you do see the metaphor, watch the film if you haven’t done so already. It’s really as good as the Academy says. Just ask Grandma—aka this year’s Best supporting actress.