Morris from America
Director: Chad Hartigan
In Theaters: 09.02
I kicked myself for not checking out Morris from America at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Not only did it get crazy buzz, but I briefly found myself within Craig Robinson’s monstrous shadow while I was picking up press tickets, which somehow made me feel guilty for not adding it to my watchlist. Now that I have had the opportunity to see it, I understand why so many people were talking about it. It’s a poignant look at cultural differences, hip-hop and the relationship between fathers and sons.
From the film’s opening scene, in which Curtis Gentry (Robinson) and his son Morris (Markees Christmas) discuss the niceties of rap music, we immediately see the humorously nuanced relationship that the father and son have with one another. Robinson and newcomer Christmas play off of each other nicely, and it’s clear that their differing opinions about what is and is not a good beat hint at a lot more baggage beneath the surface. The bulk of this baggage is the result of Curtis’ decision to relocate his family to Heidelberg, Germany, to pursue a career as a soccer coach, and Morris is having a tough time fitting in within a world where gangsta rap and Jay-Z are little more than cultural novelties.
The charm of Morris from America comes from watching Morris—an aspiring rapper and self-described gangsta—interact with his German peers. They’re all white, aloof and mistrustful of the way Morris does not fit in, making us feel the awkward pain of high school all over again.
Watching Morris try to blend his love of rap culture with the oddly alien culture around him is delightful, and it’s all thanks to Christmas. He’s the film’s heart and soul, and seeing him find himself among Eurotrash raves and navigate through German language lessons with his wise tutor (Carla Juri) is coming-of-age comedy at its best. Despite bouts with somewhat uneven pacing and storytelling, Morris from America is full of solid acting talent, heart and subtle nods to the rich history of rap music. Make sure you catch it soon—its run at the Broadway is just about over. –Alex Springer