Morris From America tells the story of a 13 year old boy (Markees Christmas) whose father (Craig Robinson) moves them to Germany for his job. Young Mo has to adjust to his new life in a strange land, while also dealing with normal adolescent obstacles. It’s a simple premise, but a journey worth following nonetheless.
Coming-of-age stories are nothing new, and Morris hits all of the usual beats. Mo struggles to fit in with his peers, he’s presented with drugs and alcohol, and then there’s the awkward teenage love interest (“there’s always a girl Mo,” as his father tells him). It’s a tried and true formula, but writer/director Chad Hartigan at least tries to put a fresh spin on it to keep the audience interested.
By moving Morris to Germany, Hartigan takes the teen’s isolation to a whole new level. Mo doesn’t just feel like an outsider; he is one. He literally doesn’t speak the same language as those around him. Plus he’s the only black kid in the town, which adds prejudice to his list of problems (when a joint is found near the youth center, Morris is the first one questioned).
But even with the slight twist, the overall story can still feel pretty paint-by-numbers at times. It’s just not compelling to watch Morris get picked on at the youth center, or to see him be strung along by the cute, rebellious older girl. In fact, these are the scenes where I wanted to check out mentally. And I would have if it weren’t for the smaller, more intimate moments that save the film from mediocrity and make it all worthwhile.
Craig Robinson knocks it out of the park as Morris’ dad Curtis, and his chemistry with Markees Christmas couldn’t be better. Their father-son dynamic alone is worth the price of admission, and makes for the most pure and charming scenes of the entire movie. Robinson actually delivers a few powerful solo scenes as well; it’s a pity that there weren’t more of them.
That’s actually the biggest gripe with Morris From America: Hartigan introduces elements with a ton of promise, but doesn’t develop them far enough. Curtis is a single father still dealing with the loss of his wife, but the script barely scratches the surface of this. Robinson could’ve been given a much largest subplot to play with; it would’ve been great based on the handful of dramatic scenes he did have. It’s a small gripe, but one still worth mentioning.
Overall, Morris From America is a good film with a lot of promise. It’s worth watching, especially for Craig Robinson’s performance and his chemistry with newcomer Markees Christmas, but don’t expect it to usurp your current favorite coming-of-age story.