‘Morris From America’ Tells a Story of Youthful Frustration and a Father’s Love

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Two factors of our youth that shape ourselves as we grow into maturity is our family and the particular corner of the world that we occupy. As much as our parents influence who we become, the very region that we grow up in plays a crucial factor as well, giving us another layer of identity that extends beyond genetic heritage. But sometimes parental factors can upend these regional relationships, as is the case in Morris From America, a wonderful story that turns the coming-of-age story on its ear by telling the tale of a young man growing up with his single dad in Germany far from his origins in the United States.

In a small German town, the young Morris (newcomer Markeees Christmas in a stunning debut) lives with his single father Curtis (Craig Robinson), a soccer coach trying his damnedest to make right for his young son. While Curtis is at work, Morris undergoes lessons in German from his kindly tutor Inka (Carla Juri). Nudged by his father, Morris starts spending more free time at a local youth center in the hopes of making some new friends. With a different skin color than his peers and roots in America, Morris is an outsider everywhere he goes. Things start to change for Morris when he befriends Katrin (Lina Keller), a slightly older young woman with a rebellious streak. Carrying a crush, Morris finds himself in entirely new situations of parties and teenage embarrassment, which slowly creates a rift between the father and son.

What makes Morris From America such a stand out is the way that writer-director Chad Hartigan is able to balance the stranger in a strange land story with the coming of age story that asserts that the follies of youth, such as chasing a crush into bad situations, is a universal problem that will affect young men regardless of their geographical origins. And, boy, does Morris follow Katrin into some unwinnable situations, like following her to a club in Frankfurt where he’s left stranded. There’s a relationship dynamic between Katrin and Morris that mirrors so many youthful trysts, of course without anything in the way of physical gratification for the young man. She’s drawn to him as an outsider, and her toying with him is able to get this angry young man to shed the protective shell he hides beneath. A simpleton might see Morris as having been “friendzoned” by Katrin, but that would undersell the way that Morris finds confidence in himself through chasing a relationship that’ll never come to fruition.

There’s an emotional honesty that runs through every frame of Morris From America, embodied in the phenomenal performance from Craig Robinson. He’s always been actor that has been able to convey a certain level of empathy through his comedic performances, but here Robinson uses that empathy in finest performance of his career, one that is humorous at times but ultimately very touching. And it’s the little moments between Robinson and the young star Markees Christmas as Morris, where the dad coaches his son on the shortcomings of his rap lyrics. As Morris settles into a furthering pattern of youthful angst, without a word Robinson is able to express the love and frustration of a father. By the year’s end, Robinson should definitely be in the Oscar conversation for this wonderful performance that anchors the film’s emotional content.

Morris From America is a well-acted, sharply constructed movie that seamlessly shifts between its comedy and drama. The film boasts some incredible performances in service of a story that feels universal. Morris From America taps into issues that might not seem like they’re at the forefront of discussions, like matters of racial identity in a lily white section of Europe, and handling them in a graceful, funny, and emotional tale of youth and self-discovery. In the end, Chad Hartigan contextualizes the struggles and angst of youth – the ability of youth to amplify moments of angst into something much more than they really are. It’s a damn good thing that young Morris has a father that cares to help him get through these difficult moments.

Morris From America
  • Overall Score
4

Summary

Anchored by a wonderful performance from Craig Robinson and newcomer Markees Christmas, Morris From America has a unique take on the well-worn coming-of-age story.

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