Morris From America ***

by Julian Stark

A feel-good story about a father and son coping with foreign emotions in a foreign land.

Is it worth $10? Yes

What makes “Morris From America” so effective is that it is equally about adolescence as it is about fatherhood. It portrays the inherent tension and differences that arise between a parent and a teenage child. It also thoughtfully conveys the solace we find in those we love the most.

The film centers on Morris Gentry (Markees Christmas), a 13-year old African American with a deep admiration for hip-hop music, partially because it reminds him of home. His father, Curtis (Craig Robinson), is recently widowed, and his job as a soccer coach permits him to move from New York to Heidelberg, Germany. If the hardships of adolescence aren’t rough enough, Morris actually has a reason to feel out of place. As his father playfully says early on, they are the “only two brothers in Heidelberg.”

Morris is taught how to speak German by his bubbly tutor (Carla Juri), who is essentially his female voice of guidance. She advises him to make friends with his classmates, but Morris is reluctant. It soon becomes apparent why. His classmates make a series of stereotypical assumptions, and refer to Morris as “Kobe Bryant.” Later on, a teacher finds the end of a joint outside, and Morris is accused of being the culprit.

Morris soon befriends a 15-year old German girl from class, Katrin (Lina Keller). Her confidence is palpable. She smokes. She dates the cool guys. She knows where the parties are. Morris is completely enamored, and Katrin reels him into her rebellious life.

As Morris trudges his way through coming of age, Curtis also goes through new stages of adulthood. He provides his son with room and distance so that Morris can find his identity, but he still imparts guidance and wisdom that any child needs from their parent. Curtis continues to grieve as he also struggles to become more comfortable in a foreign environment

Markees Christmas makes his film debut as Morris, and he proves to be an actor with tremendous talent. His softness comes through immediately and fosters affection for Morris’s struggles. His curious face recalls puberty and the insecurities that come with it. His diffidence as Morris doesn’t create unease as much as the desire to just reach through the screen and hug him.

Craig Robinson stands out as well, showing he isn’t limited to the same old comedic shtick. His acting is heartwarming and tender, and it is very evident that Robinson and Christmas have tremendous chemistry. Their banter is naturalistic and comfortable, and so very relatable for any father and son. One of the things they bond over is rap music; while Morris wants to be the next big hip hop artist, his father reminisces about his youth days rapping in the Bronx. The thought of his father making rhymes gets Morris laughing in one of many amusing moments the two characters share.

“Morris From America” doesn’t try anything new with its coming of age story, and that is okay. It tells an amusing story of a father and son, of old dreams and new ones, growth, loss, the power of music, and the power of love. In the opening scene, Morris shows Curtis an old-school hip-hop song. Curtis says the beat is “too slow,” and his dad retorts, calling it “minimal.” Sometimes, a movie is best that way too.

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