The age of 13 is a difficult chapter in the life of an ever-growing young adult. It’s the beginning of your teenage years as well as the start of the ever growing responsibilities you will face for the rest of your life. Its already rough as it is, but throw in moving to another country at such a pivotal age? I couldn’t even imagine. In Morris From America, director Chad Hartigan crafts a deep and, at times, awkward look into the life of Morris Gentry, a fish out-of-water 13-year-old boy who moves from New York City to Germany with his father Curtis Gentry, who just received a new job as an assistant coach to the town’s professional soccer team. As Curtis tries to reach out to Morris for company and to bond with after the death of his wife, Morris spends his time out of the house learning German with his teacher, Inka, and wasting his time at a German youth center. There he meets Katrin, a 15 year old girl who Morris strongly crushes on. While juggling his bond to his dad, his love for Katrin, and his deep passion for becoming a rapper, Morris takes a personal journey in who he wants to become as a growing young man and as an individual, all in a land he doesn’t understand and that might not understand him.
The films stand out, and the main reason why Morris From America works so well is the casting of Morris (Markees Christmas) and his father Curtis (Craig Robinson). The chemistry between the two leads is electric, and when they’re on screen together, the energy in their scenes is undeniable. That’s not to say the other members of the cast aren’t great, as there are other standouts here, especially Carla Juri as Inka and Lena Keller as Katrin. Both actresses have phenomenal scenes with Morris, playing off of his awkward, out of place attitude in different and always interesting ways. These four actors are definitely at the forefront of the story, and any other characters Morris meets along the way are either unimportant or come and go, though there are a couple of instances of smaller characters who have some decent screen time. My favorite being the ridiculous, flute-playing bully Bastian, played by Levin Henning.
The script, also written by Chad Hartigan, is incredibly well thought out with ultra realistic dialogue. The best parts of the script still goes to the back-and-forth, hilarious yet painful at times dialogue between Markees Christmas and Craig Robinson. These are two characters who both have been through the same difficult transition to another country, and Hartigan carefully deconstructs how this difficult situation could be completely different between a 13 year old boy and a grown man. Shown in a very carefully directed scene where they both zone out in two different worlds, like if they were looking at each other from afar. This tension is relieved in different ways for both men: Morris confiding in his love for Katrin and rap as well as experimentation at parties and new friends, and Curtis in his distant, German drinking buddies and his constant grief for his lost wife. Jumping from comedic to dramatic is not an easy feet, but Hartigan does a great job at making both coexist in this film, giving us a scene that makes you laugh until it hurts next to an emotional, well acted, dramatic sequence. None of this feels forced, thanks to Chad’s well-written script and his keen eye in the directors chair.
If there is one thing to take away from this film, its that Craig Robinson has the acting chops to do both comedy and drama, and Markees Christmas, who is the best part of this film, is already showing great flexibility as an actor. I am more than excited to see what Christmas is going to do with next, and he is definitely on the “one to watch” list as an actor on the rise. My personal favorite scenes are in the simple moments. The talking about modern and classic rap – and which is better – between Morris and Curtis, techno and Jay-Z impressions with Katrin and trying to be a big man in front of Inka. These scenes play with an awkward energy and a true love for these characters and their personalities. Morris From America isn’t breaking new ground, but the characters are well-acted and the script tells a very emotionally charged, yet hilarious at times, story, one that is more than worth your focus and your time.
Morris from America
dir. Chad Hartigan
Now playing at Coolidge Corner Theatre – click here for showtimes and ticket info