Those Germans need to get with the times.
After his mom died, Morris (Markees Christmas) and his dad (Craig Robinson) had to relocate to Germany, where the later currently works for the country’s soccer-team. While his dad is off, working, making money and trying to stay sociable and fun when he’s still reeling from the death of his wife, Morris is trying to keep his cool, have fun, make friends, and at the same time, learn German. However, it’s a lot harder for Morris than any other German kid, because not only is he American, but he’s also black and a lot of the kids his age tend to pick on him for that reason. The only one who doesn’t is Katrin (Lina Keller), an older girl who is definitely a lot more rebellious than her fellow teenagers and hangs out with Morris a lot, making him feel as if he’s got a shot of making it with her. But sooner or later, Morris starts to act out in ways that upsets his dad and his tutor (Carla Juri), leading Morris to be more and more rebellious, while still trying to live out of his dream of, one day, becoming a successful rapper.
Morris From America is an odd flick in that I’m not quite sure who it’s for. It’s a coming-of-ager of sorts, that mostly all people can relate, but it’s also kind of a kids movie. Then again, it’s the kind of kids movie where characters cuss, do drugs, and even have phone-sex. If anything, it’s less of an inaccessible movie, as much as it’s one that’s so adult, that it actually pushes away the target audience who it could be made for and could clearly benefit from seeing this the most.
But either way, it doesn’t matter, because Morris From America is still a fine flick; it’s the kind that seems conventional and definitely is, but it’s heart is big, pure and so full of love, that even despite its conventions and often times, random bits of oddness that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, it’s hard to hate. It’s a teddy bear of a movie – soft, furry, and so cuddly, that it wants love and in return, you give it the love it oh so desires. Does that necessarily make it a great movie? Not really, but it makes it a good one that, on paper, probably shouldn’t be as good as it look and definitely sounds.
Cause really, even despite it trying to seem really hard like a witty and likable coming-of-ager for all the black teens forced to live in Germany, it’s actually a lot darker and far more serious than that.
For instance, it’s the kind of movie where the bullying seems downright mean, but also believable and kind of disturbing. Not to get into too many details, but Morris is picked-on from where he’s from, what he looks like, and is often called “Kobe Bryant”, by the white, German kids around him – normally, in films such as these, the teasing can sometimes seem random and deliberate, as if the movie itself just knew that it needed to conjure up some tension – but surprisingly, it doesn’t feel that way here. What Morris gets teased for is believable, as cruel as it may be, and yeah, it doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to stop, either. Writer/director Chad Hartigan takes a bold step showing that no matter how hard Morris himself tries, he may never be as loved or as accepted as he should, and it’s pretty sad to watch.
But it also makes Morris all the more sympathetic, even if he can be a little bratty and selfish at times. Still though, Hartigan makes it very clear that Morris is a 13-year-old boy, who literally has no clue what’s going on around him half of the time and is still trying to make sense of himself, his life and his surroundings, and because of that, he’s going to make a lot of dumb decisions. Also, who hasn’t done stupid things at age 13? Yeah, like I said, it’s a sympathetic character and it’s one that Markees Christmas is pretty great with, even despite being so young. While I’m not sure if it’s his first movie or not, the movie gives him a lot to do, even when he has no dialogue; a simple look here and there is more than needed to make this character work and still be believable, and he handles it all well, seeming like a professional and definitely a young actor with bright things to come.
And hell, with that lovely name, how could he not?
But honestly, the biggest shock and perhaps most pleasant surprise of Morris From America is just how perfect Craig Robinson is in a role that does not seem tailor-made for him. For the longest time, Robinson has always been seen as the big and likable goof-ball, who says and does funny things when needed, and yeah, he always kills it at that. And while he’s definitely still that funny, chuckle-worthy dude here, it’s a lot more serious this time around and it works amazingly. Every scene where Robinson shows up, is gold because there’s a certain sense of sadness to his character, that you feel for, but at the same time, you also know that he’s got something smart to say and bring to the rest of the scene. Though the advertising may have you think otherwise, Robinson is not in the movie all of the time, but if that was the case, it would be no problem, as it’s as much of his flick, considering what he has to do and how he pulls it off so effortlessly.
And yes, it definitely made me forget of Mr. Robinson, thank heavens.
Consensus: Heartfelt and poignant, Morris From America is a sweet and sometimes honest tale about growing up, fitting in, finding your voice, and trying to get through the hard times, but never being sappy or melodramatic about any of it.
7 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire