Morris from America was a small coming of age tale that was lost in the midst of the big-budgeted films that came out this summer. Revolving around an African-American kid forced to move to Germany because of his father’s work, Morris from America tells a very touching story and portrays great character work. Showcasing good performances all around and a great supporting performance from Craig Robinson, Morris from America is a very unique coming of age tale that explores the disunion between person and place that occurs when someone moves to a different location.
By far, the greatest thing about this film is the father and son relationship between Craig Robinson’s Curtis and the young Morris played Markees Christmas. From the very beginning you get a sense of disconnect between the two, especially from Morris’s side. There’s a proper exploration about how the 13 year-old Morris is trying to act older from the very fact that when his crush asks him for his age he automatically adds three more years to his current age and the fact that he’s rapping about things that are way out of his age-range. So, not only is there a disconnect between father and son, but this is also heightened by Morris current attitude of adolescent rebellion which makes think he’s too big and cool to have a father figure. Morris considers himself to be an independent force at the start and the film unravels, we begin to observe how Morris needs to have a present relationship with his father in order to accept and overcome his current position in life.
Carla Juri also plays a different type of mentor to Markees’s Morris. She represents a sort of mid-point between a fatherly figure and a friend. With her age and attitude being more like Morris’s, Juri’s Inka gives us a very interesting perspective to look at Morris through as he’s able to divulge some of the information he doesn’t want to share with his father but still withholds a lot of information from her because of her position as his tutor. This relationship indicates Morris’s awareness of who to trust with certain things and how to discuss information with different people.
Then we’ve got Katrin played by Lina Keller, Morris’s crush. Interestingly, observing the common connections that would result from a friendship built from two people who are practically the same age, Morris doesn’t seem to share much about himself with Katrin, something that speaks to that sense of belittling that adolescents get when confronted with the person they deem most beautiful. And director Chad Hartigan finds an elegant way to transform that intimidating bond into a real friendship and then a tragic one that allows Morris to develop his sense of being at the moment.
Markees Christmas does an excellent job of making you empathize with Morris Gentry and director Chad Hartigan does an equally extraordinary job in basing the evolution of Morris on his interactions with a variety of individuals. That being said, the film does struggle with pacing a lot. Especially during the middle of the film, Chad Hartigan just kind of goes from one scene to another in a very aimless fashion that’s not appealing as a viewer. And with the ending, there’s not necessarily pacing problems, but there’s is kind of a Return of the King problem that happens. The reason I bring up Return of the King is because the problem with Return of the King isn’t that the multiple endings are bad, but there’s just too many endings cluttered together before the film comes to a finale. The same goes for Morris from America, no ending Hartigan presents as a director is bad, its just that never labels a definitive ending and instead has like ending one, ending two, and epilogue/finale? It doesn’t hinder the film in any way, but it is annoying to feel continuous false senses of completion.
As a character study, Morris from America is undoubtedly fascinating and a really original take on the disunion of identity that occurs when you move from your native country to something drastically. I’ve been through that and can really relate with what Morris goes through, principally when I think back to those first years when I was still adjusting to my new way of living in a place entirely foreign to me. Morris’s characterization is handled fabulously and everyone in the film does magnificent job in portraying their characters and how they relate to Morris. But, as a whole, as a film, Morris from America does falter when it comes to pacing and as the viewer its something extremely tiring to have a film that just meanders randomly, especially when it starts off in a great spot and then abandons that spot to aimlessly drag the plot. I would say this could be salvaged by the ending this film has, but since the film can’t define a proper one it doesn’t really work out. Morris from America is an intelligent character study and a good movie, but it just happens to stray from its main objective too much at times, making it annoying for the viewer watching the film.