Chad Hartigan’s new film “Morris From America” is a fresh take on the classic coming of age story. Not only is the titular character, Morris dealing with the pubescent woes of the average 13-year old, but he has also been recently uprooted by his father and moved to Germany – where he and dad Curtis (Craig Robinson) are the only two African American residents. Morris has to deal with learning a new language, falling for the bad girl, and finding friends who will accept him for who he really is.
“Morris” is charming because of its honesty. Markees Christmas, the newcomer who plays Morris, does not overplay his role as the cute (but sometimes dopey) young man. He gives a truthful performance that is led by Morris’ desire to fit in with his new surroundings and the people in them. His emotions are genuine and relatable to the audience, no matter how old the viewer. Most of his struggles are with the fact that he has fallen for an older girl at his summer youth program, Katrin. She shows Morris kindness, but is constantly pushing him into trouble as he follows blindly. His eagerness to win her over is both frustrating and relatable.
The most endearing thing in this film is the relationship between Morris and his father, Curtis. The connection they have with one another is refreshing and intriguing, hooking in the viewer even from the opening sequence where they playfully banter about which one has better taste in hip hop. Curtis is patient with Morris as he fumbles through the many life transitions he is facing. They grow and learn together, both facing a different set of issues after their recent move. Craig Robinson gives a performance unlike anything he has ever done before, providing a depth and realness that he has not been given the opportunity to showcase in any of his other films or television shows. Curtis is an outstanding father, and Robinson bringing this role to life is an absolute treat.
Because they are the “only brothers in Heidelberg”, racism is another issue that young Morris faces on his journey. It is not a main focus of his conflict, but it is briefly touched upon. The boys in the youth group profile him, insisting he can play basketball just from looking at him. One of his teachers finds a joint, and automatically assumes that his dark-skinned student a drug dealer. Showing this side of the problems Morris is facing is important, but is only lightly added onto his growing list of worries.
This movie is rated R due to the raps Morris writes to perform at his school. His vulgarity is important because it drives the story, but disappointing (to an extent in retrospect) because that means many teenagers around the character’s age who can benefit from watching his story will have to wait to see the film until they are older (assuming of course, they’ll be paying attention to that. It will be just as wonderful of a movie then, but not as beneficial to someone facing similar issues as they watch. Everyone should see this film, no matter how old or what they are facing in their lives. It has too much heart and too much importance to go unnoticed.