Reel Dad: Steven Yeun stars in family centric film 'Minari'

"Minari" follows a family from Korea as they pursue a new life in rural Arkansas.

“Minari” follows a family from Korea as they pursue a new life in rural Arkansas.

Sundance Institute / Contributed photo

Some movies feel like a warm hug.

They warm our hearts, comfort our souls and show us what can be good in a world filled with uncertainty. And they often remind us of the responsibilities we share to welcome people to experience new worlds.

Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” follows a family from Korea as they pursue a new life in rural Arkansas. Working with events from his own young life, Chung explores how a family filled with hope must handle change, how experienced workers may need to adjust to new working conditions for a new employer and how parents can balance realities with dreams for the future. As with the best films about the American experience, “Minari” reveals the difference we all make when we open our hearts to those who deserve to feel welcome.

Chung invites us to share this experience from the opening frames. Rarely do we feel we are simply watching a movie on screen; instead we spend time with a family as they take small as well as significant steps into their new lives. We are there to share how they react when they first see their new home, how the parents react to the working conditions at the local chicken hatchery and how they try to help their children cope as they find themselves challenged by change. We are with them as they fight and cry, and hug and comfort each other, always hoping the filmmaker continues to authentically share this family without introducing unnecessary dramatic devices into the narrative. Thankfully, Chung refuses to let the film exaggerate into the artificial. Yes, they face ups and downs, events that shock, people who disappoint. But Chung has too much respect for the character his actors portray to let contrivance intervene. The director achieves a perfect balance.

The performances soar. Steven Yeun (of “The Walking Dead” fame) brings a solemn serenity to his role as patriarch, a man determined to create a better life for his family while pushing himself to accomplish more. In Han Ye-ri, moviemaker Chung finds an ideal channel for maternal love, as the actress expresses deep caring for her children while insisting on her standards the family must set. Young actor Alan Kim brings a childlike wonder to a boy who wants to experience all the adventure a move can bring while carefully scrutinizing his new surroundings. And Noel Kate Cho, as the grandmother, displays a wisdom that can comfort anyone facing any circumstance.

As with the best of film, “Minari” fills the screen with small moments that make us feel we are there to give us every chance to get to know these marvelous people. From how they shop in local stores to how they connect with others, the film enables us to see this family for what they can be. And if you love happy endings at the movies, “Minari” lets us know that, only when we open our hearts, and sincerely welcome people we meet, can we help others fulfill the dreams their narratives promise.

“Minari” is rated PG-13 for “thematic elements and a rude gesture” and will open in theaters on Feb. 12 and on demand on Feb. 26. The film runs 1 hour, 55 minutes.

Summary: Minari

Content: High. This examines how parents hold a family together during change and reminds us how fragile home can be.

Entertainment: High. Thanks to a strong cast, and an insightful script, the film has quite a bit to say about what it takes to work through change. At any age.

Message: High. Lee Isaac Chung's lovely film simply makes us feel at home as it reminds us how we each have a responsibility to welcome.

Relevance: High. Any opportunity to introduce children to issues of inclusion can be a welcome visit to the movies.

Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your children, talk with them about the steps everyone can take to welcome others.