At the Movies With…
Lady Beverly Cohn
Splash Editor-at-Large Worldwide
This heartfelt, compelling film has already garnered dozens of awards, including the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, an Independent Spirit Award, and the Black Film Critics Circle Award for Best Original Screenplay. Adding to that, are multiple Oscar nominations in several categories for Lee Isaac Chung, including
Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay, which he wrote. Other members of the cast who are also up for awards include, Steven Yeun for Actor in a Leading Role, the first Asian-American actor to be nominated in that category in Oscar history, and Yuh-Jung Youn for Actress in a Supporting Role. When faced with all these accolades, one’s expectations are extremely high and sometimes those expectations are not met. However, I’m happy to say that the film deserves every award it has won as well as the current nominations.
The movie, loosely based on Chung’s own life, is a tender story about a Korean-American family that moves from California to rural Arkansas in 1980. The dad, Jacob Yi, is portrayed by Steven Yeun, whose internal characterization is both fascinating and compelling as the myriad feelings and challenges he faces are clearly visible on his body and soul. Jacob is determined to achieve the American Dream and purchased 50-acres of farmland. His wife Monica, well played by Yeri Han, is filled with dismay as she sees their new home, which is akin to Army barracks. She is also concerned about medical care for their son David, played by a really talented, adorable young Alan Kim, who makes his film debut. His character is pivotal to the unfolding action as well as providing comic relief. His sister Anne, nicely played by Noel Kate Cho, is a typical teenager with the angst that comes with trying to make new friends. Ever positive, Jacob knows exactly what he wants to do and that is to plant his fields with fruits and vegetables that he can eventually sell to the growing Korean population in Oklahoma City. Despite lack of enthusiasm from his wife, his vision is clear and his determination unbridled. To support themselves until his dream comes to fruition, they both work in a factory separating the male chicks from the female chicks. Sorry to have to say this, but the male chicks are disposed of because they cannot reproduce, but I’ll spare you from the details of that method. When not working at the factory, Jacob prepares his land for planting by searching for a water source and purchasing a tractor for plowing. His ultra-religious next door neighbor Paul, wonderfully played by Will Patton, becomes Jacob’s good friend and helper. This kind man is what you might describe as a Holy Roller so there’s lots of prayers of thanks to Jesus. At home, there are many arguments between Paul and Monica who wants to return to California with the kids, with or without her husband. However, little by little she fixes up their home and Jacob proceeds with plowing the land. Grandma Soon-ja, humorously played by the talented Yuh-Jung Youn, arrives on the scene much to David and Anne’s dismay. The boy takes an instant dislike to her, which she handles in a very amusing way. He complains that she’s not a traditional grandmother because she curses, laughs a lot, and snores. The young grandson hates her cooking and says, “She smells like Korean.” Wanting to torment Soon-ja, this little imp brings her a mystery drink which she spits out quickly and laughing, calls him a bastard. Jacob sends him out to get a rod with which he will be spanked but given his rebellious nature, coupled with his sense of humor, he returns with a wilted weed. Dad forces his son to apologize, which he reluctantly does, but still insists that she is not a real grandmother. The fields are beginning to blossom and as with any rural farm, water issues appear and solutions are sought, always with Paul praying for help from Jesus. Grandma and David explore the property and he spots a crawling snake that scares him and wants her to kill it. She consoles him saying, “Things that are hidden are dangerous – better to see the snake.” Grandma brought minari seeds* from Korea and plants them on a hill near the stream – an action that has unexpected future ramifications. With their relationship improving, David confides in her that he doesn’t want to die and she tenderly sings him to sleep, saying, “I won’t let you die.” Good neighbor Paul is invited for dinner, following which he sprinkles holy water throughout the house to purge out the demons and cure David of his health issue. In the meantime, the crops are becoming fruitful and Jacob makes a deal with a local distributor to sell his fruits and vegetables to Korean consumers. Jacob’s persistence appears to be paying off but unfortunately his mother-in-law is faced with a health crisis, which is resolved with residual side effects that impact Jacob’s vision in a most catastrophic way.
This is the story of one man’s unrelenting vision of achieving the American Dream and how the family comes together in the face of extreme, unexpected adversity, catapulting them into yet another set of new beginnings.
Director Chung assembled a top-notch technical team including: Director of Photography Lachlan Milne, who captured the changing textures of the narrative, Emile Mosseri’s music, underscoring the action, as well as Film Editing by Harry Yoon, Production Design by Yong Ok Lee, Art Direction by W. Haley Ho, Set Direction by Hanrui Wang, and Susanna Song, whose period costumes are spot on. I would be remiss if I didn’t mentioned Brad Pitt is one of the Executive Producers, adding to a long list including, “Beautiful Boy,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Departed,” “By the Sea,” “Eat Pray Love,” “Moneyball, and “World War Z,” to name just a few.
*Minari is a Korean, peppery herb
Release Date: Current
Where: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV & other Streaming Services
Language: English & Korean with subtitles
Running Time: 115 Minutes
DELROY LINDO ACCEPTS AMERICAN RIVIERA AWARD; OSCAR NOMINATED WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY IN CONVERSATION AT THE 36TH ANNUAL SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Day 9 of the 36th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival presented by UGG began with the women’s panel conversation in the afternoon. Oscar nominated producers, directors and designers Dana Murray (Soul), Elvira Lind (The Letter Room), Garret Bradley (Time), Kori Rae (Onward), Madeline Sharafian (Pixar's Burrow), Michele Couttolenc (Sound of Metal), Tiara Thomas (Judas and the Black Messiah), Trish Summerville (Mank), participated in a virtual conversation led by entertainment marketing & branding specialist, Madelyn Hammond.
Kori Rae on inclusivity at Pixar: “What we’re learning at Pixar is that it starts on the page and it starts in the story room and that’s where you have to start creating the characters who are diverse and so by the time you get to the actual casting, you have those characters in place and you know that your world is already robust and exemplifies the world around us. We’re working hard to keep at that and hold ourselves to that.”
Tiara Thomas on songwriting with H.E.R.: “...she’s like my little sister. I’ve been working with her since she was like 15 years old. We have hundreds of songs together. We were working on her album actually…we watched the movie [Judas and the Black Messiah] in the studio...They gave us very few directions. They said they didn’t want the song to be sad...They wanted it to feel hopeful...We sat in the studio after watching the movie and we listened to just music from that period - Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gay and we just got in a little groove and started writing this song.”
Dana Murray on choosing Jamie Foxx to voice Joe: “Jamie Foxx was in our minds from the very beginning because not only is he an incredible dramatic actor and comedian but because he is a musician in his own right...he played classical music and actually went to music school and was a pianist himself...I think he brought so much to the character in knowing that world, for sure.”
Garrett Bradley on creating stories from a woman’s POV: “...looking at incarceration from a woman’s point of view which to me was so important because we’re finally starting to talk about incarceration in a mainstream way but very often it is around the facts and not so much around the affects of the facts and the impact that this has on love, on money, on mothers, on children, on families, on loved ones...There’s 2.3 billion people that are incarcerated in our country right now so there’s if not double, triple, quadruple that number of stories that can be told from this perspective.”
Trish Summerville on working with David Fincher: “He’s definitely precise but I think the precision comes more in all the technical parts of it and with the camera...but you always know what you’re doing for the day...He definitely gives you lots of freedom. That’s one of the reasons I really enjoy working with him...He’s really cool about allowing you to create...He has this respect and then you do want to work hard and do a really great job and then you do get all this freedom so a lot of people continually want to go back and work with him and that’s kind of where I’m at. I really enjoyed working with him.”
The evening concluded with a live tribute to Delroy Lindo, who received the American Riviera Award. Lindo was honored for his many attributes to the art of film over the years, and most recently, his work in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods from Netflix.
Lindo virtually sat down with Indiewire Editor-at-Large Anne Thompson for an in depth discussion about his career in film, television and in the theater.During Lindo’s conversation with Thompson, guests enjoyed clips from his acting career, including Malcom X, Crookland, Clockers, Get Shorty, Soul of the Game, Feeling Minnesota, Ransom, The Cider House Rules, Romeo Must Die and Da 5 Bloods.
Following the conversation, Oscar nominated composer Terence Blanchard presented him with the American Rivera Award. Blanchard opened his remarks by saying: “The thing about Delroy is that he leaves an impression. The way he can effortlessly inhabit the characters, the authority in which he delivers his lines, the impact he leaves on a project, whether you remember the story or not, you definitely remember Delroy...He stands out in these vast ensembles...It is my great honor to present my brother, Delroy Lindo, with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s American Rivera Award to Delroy. Congratulations.”
Upon accepting his award, Lindo said: “Thank you so much Terence...To the extent that I inspire you, I’m saying right back at you bro, you inspire me...I can’t imagine being more honored to get the award from you...Thank you to the Santa Barbara International Film Festival...I appreciate the recognition. That recognition comes all down to Spike Lee and him bringing us all together to work on this particular film. On a lot of levels, my appreciation for Spike stems from that time ...I have a deep, deep, deep appreciation for Spike specifically for this film but also for all of the work that we’ve done. Spike, if you’re watching I want to say that I have an enhanced appreciation for your particular genius...I want to say thank you to my brothers, the cast and crew of Da 5 Bloods in terms of the community they created and the safe space that we all created together to make this work possible...A particular thank you to my brothers in arms...My cousins Ronnie and Ted, they were Vietnam veterans...and to all the black and brown vets who’s stories never get told on film...Thank you to my son...my son inspires me in ways that you never know...Thank you to my wife, Neshormeh, I love you...Thank you all, god bless. I really really appreciate it.
The American Riviera Award was established to recognize actors who have made a significant contribution to American Cinema. Previous recipients include Renée Zellweger, Viggo Mortenson, Sam Rockwell, Jeff Bridges, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Robert Redford, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Annette Bening, Sandra Bullock, Mickey Rourke, Tommy Lee Jones, Forrest Whitaker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane.
The final upcoming live tributes will include a presentation to Amanda Seyfried. All films are available online now and a schedule of films at the drive-in, as well as a full schedule of events including where fans can purchase 10-day festival passes now through April 10 can be found by visiting www.sbiff.org.
About the Santa Barbara International Film Festival
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts and educational organization dedicated to discovering and showcasing the best in independent and international cinema. Over the past 35 years, SBIFF has become one of the leading film festivals in the United States – attracting 100,000+ attendees and offering 11 days of 200+ films, tributes and symposiums, fulfilling their mission to engage, enrich, and inspire the Santa Barbara community through film. In 2016, SBIFF entered a new era with the acquisition of the historic and beloved Riviera Theatre. After a capital campaign and renovation, the theatre is now SBIFF’s new state-of-the-art, year-round home, showing new international and independent films every day. In 2019, SBIFF opened its own Education Center in downtown Santa Barbara on State Street to serve as a home for its many educational programs and a place for creativity and learning.