Adolescence is a time where kids often feel different from their peers. In Morris From America, writer/ director Chad Hartigan (This Is Martin Bonner) deals with a protagonist who actually is different. Morris’ search for acceptance, and his father’s efforts to assist without enabling him, make for an authentic, touching film.
Curtis Gentry (Craig Robinson) is a retired soccer player who is now on the coaching staff of a German team. He is a widower with a thirteen-year-old son. As Curtis puts it, he and Morris are “the only brothers in Heidelberg”.
Morris takes German lessons from Inka (Carla Juri), who encourages him to make friends at a community center. It is an optimistic, verging on foolhardy, suggestion. No one looks or sounds like him-and that is only the start of his problems
The Germans have preconceived notions about black men, ranging from basketball skills to extreme male endowment. When Morris disproves their stereotypes, they tend to blame him rather than recalibrate their beliefs.
A complication arises when Morris develops a crush on a lovely older girl, Katrin (Lina Keller). She already has a boyfriend with a motorcycle but appears to enjoy stringing Morris along. Katrin is not above using Morris as a placeholder when her boyfriend pays attention to other girls. Scenes of Morris fantasizing about her with a pillow show he has the interest to take their relationship to another level. Unfortunately, he lacks the opportunity.
One area where German expectations and Morris’ talents meet is in the area of music. He is a budding rapper, and Katrin goads him into signing up for the big talent show to be held the next week. Nervous, he launches into a lyric about “F***ing all the b******, two at a time” that alienates the audience.
Music also provides a teachable moment for Curtis. Told by Inka about the offensive lyrics, Curtis responds by saying his son is his own business. When Curtis is alone with Morris, however, he takes the young man to task. A former rapper, Curtis is less concerned about the lyric’s content than its authenticity. He explains that the power of rap derives from its grounding in the rapper’s personal experience.
The advice from Curtis proves valuable for Morris, who has better success in his next performance by rapping about the frustrations of a black kid in Germany. Like many young people, he follows this triumph with an error in judgment. It is necessary for Curtis to intervene, lovingly.
Craig Robinson is wonderful as Curtis. Anyone who admires his work in The Office and Hot Tub Time Machine is well advised to seek out his performance here. Robinson delivers an understated and thoroughly centered performance. The rapport between him and Christmas (an extraordinarily promising newcomer) is a pleasure to watch. They engage you from the opening, when they disagree about the percussion pattern for a song (Curtis thinks it is subtle; Morris thinks it is just slow).
The cinematography by Sean McElwee does a stellar job of showing off Heidelberg while making clear how much Curtis and Morris stand out from the crowd. A couple of scenes feature more exuberant camera work- one where Morris envisions a castle’s interior coming to hip-hop life and another where he and Katrin dance wildly at a party where they are clearly underage.
Morris From America is available on Amazon Video, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, and Google Play.
Theme: Out Of Place
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