More than anything, Chad Hartigan’s quirky coming of age film “Morris From America” serves as a showcase for the immense potential of its two main actors. That would be newcomer Markees Christmas as the titular Morris, a Hip Hop loving thirteen-year-old who recently relocated to Germany with his dad. Christmas is superb — playing Morris as an awkward, timid loner with a bit of an attitude. Christmas’s natural, assured performance indicates that he is more than comfortable with carrying a movie.
Meanwhile Craig Robinson plays Morris’ father Curtis who’s taken a job with a German soccer team. Known primarily through his comedic work on the TV show “The Office,” as well as the “Hot Tube Time Machine” movies, Robinson demonstrates here his ability to handle more dramatic roles. He gives a poignant, sensitive performance as a recent widower trying to find the right balance of friend and parent in regards to raising his son.
As for the movie itself, “Morris” is a pleasing yet slight coming of age tale. Enjoyable enough in the moment but doesn’t give you a lot to chew on afterwards. There’s not much as far as plot’s concerned—it’s simply about young Morris trying to adjust to his new surroundings and make friends over the course of the summer while also dealing with new found feelings of love. Morris develops a crush on Katrin (Lina Keller) an intelligent, charming rebellious fifteen-year-old who brings him out of his timid shell by taking him to parties and feeding him ecstasy and marijuana joints. They have some amusing and heartfelt moments together but the relationship develops the way you expect it to with a predictably bittersweet resolution. In fact overall Hartigan’s screenplay yields little in the way of surprises.
However, the fact that Morris and Curtis are black and seemingly the only black people in the city they live adds an additional intriguing layer of alienation to the picture. Moving to a new place where you don’t know anyone is hard enough but to move to a new place where there’s nobody else who even looks like you would be an even bigger challenge. Hartigan deals with this issue of unfamiliarity and otherness in a subtle way. Morris is never seriously harassed but you can detect mild racism in some of his interactions with other German teens. After all, these kids probably haven’t encountered many African Americans (if any) and as such they only have stereotypes to go off of: black people are good dancers, black people are good at basketball etc. Additionally, Morris is continually called “Kobe” by a German boy and frequently referred to as the “black boy” by both adults and kids.
Although, I do wish the film had given Robinson more to do. I wanted to learn more about his character and life outside of simply being Morris’s father (we only catch a few brief glimpses). What about his own struggles with being one of the only African Americans in town and in his profession?
Overall, “Morris From America” is never bad or even dislikable. It’s well made and well acted, though its impact is admittedly minor.