R | 1h 31min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
Review - Matt Mungle
*In select theaters September 2nd 2016*
Synopsis: A heartwarming and crowd-pleasing coming-of-age comedy with a unique spin, Morris from America centers on Morris Gentry a 13-year-old who has just relocated with his single father, Curtis to Heidelberg, Germany. To complicate matters further, Morris quickly falls hard for his cool, rebellious, 15-year-old classmate Katrin.
Review: I have been a fan of Craig Robinson since the early days of The Office. His laid back demeanor and smooth delivery give his roles a relaxed since of realness. Having him as a single dad in MORRIS FROM AMERICA peaked my curiosity and bumped up my desire to check it out. The film was the Sundance Film Festival 2016 Winner and picked up the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. All of these facts make this coming of age tale intriguing. But the question is, "for what audience?".
Morris Gentry (Markees Christmas) is a likable young teen. As with any 13 year-old he is just trying to find his groove. It is hard adjusting to life in Germany with his single father (Craig Robinson) since Morris doesn't quite fit in. The language and lifestyle is far different than what he is used to and his attempts to make friends often backfires. When he starts attending the youth activity center he meets Katrin (Lina Keller) who helps him come out of his shell a tad bit. Morris longs to be a rapper and this of course is interesting to his new German friend. But rapping is about life and Morris may not have lived it enough to bust any serious rhymes.
The father son moments are the foundation of this story and the scenes with Christmas and Robinson are the best. Granted their frank, open dialogue about everything from sex to rap music may catch many off guard. Morris idolizes Snoop and Biggie and much of his lyrics and speech emulate that. Markees is able to handle the adult nature of these conversations with a confidence and poise that elevates his performance to award worthy. He is very comfortable in his own skin even in the most awkward of scenes. Robinson is as good an onscreen dad as you will see. Yes he may talk to his son in a vernacular that most of us might shy away from but it never seems fake or manipulative. He captures the essence of a father trying to make a straight path of his son. He is a working man dealing with the hand he has been given. The balance between letting his son grow while still keeping the boundaries in place is tricky.
The script is solid and writer/director Chad Hartigan handles the content efficiently. Having a 30 something year old white guy from Cyprus pen a story about a black American father and son seems a little odd. You may wonder at times if the conversation would actual play out like it does. Though delivered well the actual words often has a disconnect from what many of us would consider reality. But for the most part it works.
MORRIS FROM AMERICA is rated R for teen drug use and partying, sexual material, brief nudity, and language throughout. It is the rating and content that make it difficult to figure out who this film is for. One of my favorite family dynamic films of all times is LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Though focused on family the content was certainly not for the entire family. Similarly this one also is about a young boy but made for adults. The language and many of the conversations may be a bit awkward for mixed viewing. I found it funny and heartwarming but many times was glad I was not watching it with family members. I give it 3 out of 5 water guns. But a low three. The performances are fantastic but I am not sure the film would have anything else going for it without those.