Morris From America
Starring Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson, Carla Juri, Lina Keller
Chad Hartigan’s film Morris From America is a vibrant and unique take on the coming of age story. Not particularly a film about race, creed, or even location, Hartigan explores relatable themes like loss, friendships, puberty and single parenthood. Christmas makes his feature film debut and feels so embedded in the character it never feels like a performance. Comedian Craig Robinson is rarely afforded a role like this to prove his acting worth. It feels like an entirely different side to the actor most recently seen in Hot Tub Time Machine 2. Morris From America has charming antidotal scenes that are equal parts funny and often empathetic.
Curtis (Robinson) didn’t have a choice but to bring his 13-year-old son Morris (Christmas) over to Germany with him following the death of his wife. Working with the German Football (Soccer) League, Curtis allows Morris a lot of room to mature on his own due to his work schedule. Being the only black kid in a small German town, it isn’t easy for Morris to make friends. He does language tutoring with Inka (Juri) most weekday afternoons, and his German is fairly decent. His teenage world changes when he meets spunky 15-year-old Katrin (Keller) who smokes, drinks, and find her new dark skinned friend unusually interesting.
Hartigan explores what stereotypes a young black male might face in a sea of white European faces, it’s often done in a hysterical, “I shouldn’t be laughing at this way”.
“Let Snoop Dog rap about ****ing two *****es at a time, he’s done that. You need to rap about what’s going on with you,” Curtis scolds when Morris is banned from the local community talent center for an explicit rap. Hartigan explores what stereotypes a young black male might face in a sea of white European faces, it’s often done in a hysterical, “I shouldn’t be laughing at this way”. Morris From America is at its best when our young leading star interacts with adults. The way they share their life experience, “don’t be in a rush to get older Morris,” often gives the film its greatest significance. The other stuff, antics with fellow teens, doesn’t make the film particularly rise above other coming age stories.
Despite running at a mere 90 minutes, Morris From America does seem to run out of steam. Hartigan’s adventures of Morris learning, getting into trouble and his hokey camera fades and reprises wear thin. Robinson doesn’t get enough screen time and I felt like he needed a few more scenes to develop his character. Juri (Wetlands) is a pure delight in every single scene. Inka’s relationship with Morris offers a few moments to soak up the female nourishment he is obviously lacking. Morris From America is more of a coming of age story for adults, as younger audiences won’t find much to keep their mind from wandering.
Strives to stand apart from generic coming-of-age stories and for the most part achieves it.