Film Review – Morris From America
Morris From America
Morris From America avoids many pitfalls in this well-constructed coming of age story. Morris (Markees Christmas), a thirteen year old African American, is living in Germany with his father Curtis (Craig Robinson), who works for a soccer team. Morris is adapting relatively well to his new circumstances, learning German from college student Inka (Carla Juri), and having a solid relationship with his father. Yet he is still adjusting to being in Germany and trying to develop connections with people his own age, but spends most of his time writing rap lyrics. Inka gets him to go to a youth center to try to make some friends. He is not very successful but he becomes attracted to fifteen year old Katrin (Lina Keller).
This film lives and dies with its characters and director/writer Chad Hartigan has a sure hand in how he wants to create them, leaving much unsaid about what they are after or dealing with. He touches on what troubles them but never makes that everything that defines them. These are not just troubled teens and a single father. They have dimensions that make them hard to pigeon hole and yet still create a baseline for where they are going.
Katrin is not exactly troubled but is not entirely well adjusted either. She hates her mother, smokes, and enjoys drugs but never seems to cross over to being a junkie. She is not on board with, shall we say, society’s ideas. She takes a liking to Morris and genuinely does enjoy spending time with him, but whether she likes him to the same extent that he likes her is left open-ended. She flirts with him and defends and flatters him when others pick on him, keeps egging him on to perform his raps, and likes to call him gangsta. But it is unclear if she really sees him as a potential boyfriend. So not a bad child but also not exactly the perfect angel.
Then there is single father Curtis who knows Morris is a good kid. He also knows Morris is growing up in a foreign country and understands he is dealing with changes that many teenagers are going through. He wants to let Morris explore and grow, so when he catches Morris being out late he isn’t mad when Morris says he was at a party, but says he would have appreciated a note telling him where Morris would be. A really great scene is when Curtis finds something Morris is hiding. Now it is not terrible, but it shows that Morris is growing up and is developing new interests. Curtis is more amused and yet terrified knowing that things are going to change and it will be more of a challenge trying to be there for his son, not that his son is becoming a deviant or criminal. He himself is also dealing with being in a foreign country and has issues with loneliness. In many ways his son is his main outlet for socializing but that never makes him want to keep his son at home, yet shows that he can relate to what his son is going through.
Finally we have Morris, the film’s focus, who plays a normal young adult better than I have seen in a while. He is a smart kid who is feeling out of place in a foreign country and like most thirteen year old boys is driven by his hormones, especially when the girl he likes starts to pay attention to him and makes some overtures that she may share some interest. He is also not blind to her faults and when she does something cruel early on he calls her out on it. He wants to impress her but does not just do whatever she wants because he has a sense of right and wrong but can bend it a bit. Overall this is a good kid, he is not a gangster or anything like that, he just likes to rap and even shares this love of rap with his father.
There is no plot really to speak of, just seeing these three individuals going about their lives. Even a less showy character like Inka as the teacher doesn’t fit the mold of merely the helpful teacher. She is there for Morris but it never gets to the point where it feels like that he is the only thing she worries about. We get hints of her life outside of teaching him even if most of her interactions occur around Morris or his father. All these people are not entirely happy with their situations but no one is completely lost. These are people who have hopes and dreams but are saddled with doubts and sadness like everyone else.
The clearness of vision here is really quite impressive. These are not typical movie characters because they are so ordinary, and I mean that in the best possible way. These are people you may not know but can instantly see why they do some of the things they do even if you agree or disagree with their choices. What’s more this is not a feel good film or a film that sinks its audience into depression. It is what a slice of life is: there is good, there is bad, but things go on and one does the best one can.
Also, be sure to check out our interview with actor Craig Robinson.