Morris from America Arrives with Heart and Humor


Morris (Markees Christmas, left), playfully challenges his father’s (Craig Robinson, right) taste in rap in MORRIS FROM AMERICA.

Morris from America is a coming of age story about a young black teenager growing up in Germany. Morris (Markees Christmas) has been transplanted to a small suburban town when his father, Curtis (Craig Robinson), takes a job as a local soccer coach. Curtis is a widower and as his son moves through adolescence as a precocious 13-year-old, he finds himself struggling to connect with Morris as both wrestle with being foreigners trying to make their lives work.

Morris finds himself without friends, save his German language tutor Inka (Carla Juri). When Morris meets Katrin (Lina Keller), an older girl at his school who shows him some attention, he becomes smitten and begins testing the limits of his independence and privacy in order to be around her. Intertwined in this is Morris’ aspiration to become a rapper as he pedals around a notebook and pen, jotting down lyrics as they come to him.morris2What works in Morris from America are the script and the message. Writer/director Chad Hartigan creates an authentic picture of young self-discovery layered on top of the complexities of taking that journey in an unfamiliar place. The interactions between characters feel nuanced and real, comprised mostly of tough situations that require tough choices. Most often, the Morris and the people around him, act and react in measured ways, reinforcing a sense of believability which gives the film charm.

Of particular note is Robinson’s performance as a dad trying to maintain communication with his son, while not stifling his development. In moments where the tension could have been exaggerated or exasperated, Hartigan presents conflict rationally and, whether intentionally or not, offers some strong parental advice. Robinson is always encouraging and trusting of his son, and deals with Morris’ disappointing decisions justly but as learning opportunities. morris1While Morris from America benefits from a warm and endearing core, some may find the material all too familiar. The basic narrative differs only slightly from previous coming-of-age tales, offering only new locals and character backgrounds. Audiences may find the plot developments obvious as Morris’ path has a fairly clear trajectory. Others may take issue with the excessive amount of language as Morris’ father takes no issue with constantly using profanity as part of his speech, although arguably most often with a purpose.

Morris from America may not break new ground in the genre, but it has a lot of heart and subtle comedic moments. Young parents may find a lot to connect with in the material, and could possibly heed a thing or two from the messages laden throughout.

Grade: A-

Photos courtesy of A24