Tay’s review published on Letterboxd:
almost a year of quarantining indoors saw an incredible influx of collective yearning for cottagecore —fantasizing not of jet-setting to tropical beachsides or buzzing cityscapes, but a deep longing to return to a pastoral simplicity.
grass as tall as your waist. golden wheat, ripe crops, soft soil. rolling hills, land that meets the horizon at the far distance. bright blue skies. cotton summer dresses drying on a clothesline. no billboards, no telephone wires, no white noise. just you and the great blackness of a cool night to come.
Minari is that rural, self-reliant dream realized, along with the reality that tending to the earth demands more than just tenderness. to succeed, you have to be persistent. you have to be cunning. you have to be resourceful. you have to be smart. you have to be patient. you may even have to be stubborn.
Jacob Yi knows this—he's all of these things, and most of all he's determined. Jacob and his wife Monica married with the exchanged promise that they would move to America and save each other. they uproot, leaving behind their families in Korea. in California, they tend to chickens, sexing them for long, monotonous hours. whatever money they make isn't enough for Jacob, so he again uproots himself, Monica, and their two young children, buying land in Arkansas to grow a garden.
but it's not a utopian garden for Jacob; it's a real capricious farm. here in the earth, Jacob senses a chance to prove himself and provide for his family. this land is not only his but Monica's land, Anne's land, David's land. and all this land is demanding, requiring laborious hours of Jacob, who works so long he can't lift his arms higher than his waist at the end of the day. Steven Yeun is exceptional, outwardly certain yet so quietly clinging to any prospect at prospering by his own will.
while Jacob physically drains himself, Monica bears the emotional burden. she weeps when her widowed mother brings her food from Korea—so deep is her longing for home, it upwells over anchovies and chili powder. her frustration at feeling she has no say in where her family goes or what their next move will be—she wants to go back to California; Jacob refuses to give up—is palpable, and portrayed so poignantly by Han Ye-ri.
while Monica misses the familiar life she knew before, she also must navigate her bright, curious children, who quickly are becoming their own people. Anne and David will resonate with many one-point-five and second-generation children, who freely roam their new land with a careful inquisitiveness not encouraged elsewhere. their curiosity is stoked by their grandmother, whose penchant for cursing and drinking Mountain Dew is both refreshingly and strangely foreign. Youn Yuh-jung is absolutely compelling, with a heart-wrenching final scene that says so much about acceptance and forgiveness without saying anything at all.
perhaps what most impresses me about Minari is that it feels thoroughly like a family drama—at times, the film seems to belong to Jacob, but then it leans into David's perspective, only to then turn its attention back to Monica or her mother. there is no central character, there is only a central family unit. it's the family that works together, argues together, lies down to sleep on the floor together in their new, unfamiliar home. it's the family uprooted not once, but several times. it's the family going to church together. it's the family selling produce together. it's the family returning to the doctor together. it's the family, together.
together, the Yi family harvests, yielding the fruits and vegetables and goods of their labor. even when it seems futile—the water dries out, a barn goes up in flames, the endless sexing of chickens seems inevitable—they persist. this courage, more than anything else, is cottagecore: braving the weeds, facing the flames, digging up rotted roots, and tending to the dirt, the grass, the crops from which we came, and to where we will again return.