Morris From America opens up to a father and son playfully arguing about their generation’s version of hip-hop. The boy says that his dad’s rap is too old while the dad counters that his son’s rap is too poppy. This scene playfully illustrates the intergenerational divide between the two and establishes the boy’s role in the film: a teenager trying to find his way to be accepted.
Morris From America centers on Morris Gentry (Markee Christmas)—an African American boy who just moved to Heidelberg, Germany with his father, Curtis (Craig Robinson). The only friend that Morris seems to have is his German teacher, Inka (Carla Juri). Inka prompts him to go to the local youth center to meet kids his own age, but it doesn’t go too well. Heidelberg is an incredibly white city, which makes Morris feel isolated. The only friend he makes is a party girl named Katrin (Lina Keller). She’s older and has more life experience than Morris, but she pushes him to open himself up to the world through his freestyle rap.
Director and writer Chad Hartigan isn’t a stranger to the themes of loneliness. His last film, This is Martin Bonner, also deals with a protagonist trying to find acceptance in a new life. Even though Morris is much lighter than Martin Bonner, Hartigan is still able to convey those same emotions. Every shot has Morris isolated from everyone else and clearly creates that black and white barrier.
Christmas makes a stunning début in his first feature film and it feels like the studio literally found him wandering in Germany. He gives off that sense of childish rebellion and the need for human connection. Robinson is usually known for his raunchier roles in Seth Rogen films, but this rare, dramatic role proves that he has the chops to go further. They both bounce off of each other and illustrate a true father-son relationship while also highlighting their own individual problems.
While Hartigan did a fine job of developing Christmas’ character, the background characters were simply left as walking stereotypes and plot devices. I believe that the black population is low in Germany, but I’m not convinced that none exist in the entire country. Hartigan paints the German teenagers as completely oblivious to what a Black person is actually like. They’re genuinely surprised that Morris doesn’t play basketball, dance, or have a big penis. I understand that Hartigan was trying to make racism one of Morris’ obstacles but it could have been done a bit more subtly.
The story was simple but felt empty in a few sections. Hartigan also wanted us to feel Curtis’ isolation as a black man in Germany, but it felt short ended. We only see one scene of him trying to fit in with his white coworkers and a sad, awkward phone sex conversation before it switches back to Morris. It left the audience wanting more of Curtis’ struggles as well.
Morris’ storyline was effective yet ended on an awkward note. His crush on the older Katrin leads him to attend raging parties and pretend that he’s taking drugs with the rest of the group. When she finally pushes him to freestyle rap in front of a large crowd, it seems like Morris is at a high point in his character development, but the film suddenly ends. It’s presumably a happy ending but far from satisfying.
Morris From America is a cute coming of age tale that encompasses puberty and loneliness but doesn’t completely take advantage of those themes. Hartigan is able to make Morris a relatable character but makes the other characters huge stereotypes, as if needing to spoon feed the definition of racism.