Spoil-Free Review: Morris From America
Morris From America is a lot of things that you’ve seen before: a coming of age story, a fish out of water tale, a love story, and a father-son story. Even though Chad Hartigan’s 2016 indie comedy is a lot of things you’ve seen before it still manages to be a unique combination of a lot of cliché indie comedy tropes. Chad Hartigan is a man from Cyprus—an island you didn’t realize was its own country—he made his full length directorial debut with 2013’s This is Martin Bonner which is a surprisingly decent drama about nothing in particular that you’ve never seen before. Morris couldn’t really be more different than the This Is Martin Bonner and that’s mostly a good thing in all respects. Morris From America is about Morris Gentry, a 13-year old black boy and his father Curtis (played by Craig Robinson) who have recently moved to a small town Heidelberg, Germany. The movie follows Morris as he falls in love with art, women, and making bad decisions. Morris meets a 15-year old German girl named Katrin at the local youth center and after a pretty cliché slow motion hair blowing in the wind scene it goes pretty predictably downhill from there. The plot is fairly inconsequential when it all comes down to it in Morris From America in general it is mostly inoffensive and serves mostly as a vehicle for its excellent cast and Hartigan to do some good work. Besides a pretty big misstep that Hartigan makes of not addressing that fact that one of his characters is almost definitely a pretty creepy pedophile there isn’t really anything else to say about the storyline. Actually besides that pretty big misstep there isn’t really much else bad to say about Morris From America.
I’m loving this Craig Robinson renaissance! I’ve been a fan of Robinson ever since he was skinny with a bit part in the first season of The Office. It pained me to see him in his terrible NBC show; and apparently it pained you all too because it only lasted a grand total of six episodes. But after his stellar run on Mr. Robot this season I was expecting big things from Mr. Robinson himself. Craig Robinson shines in in Morris especially when given space to run Robinson really impresses on screen. His storyline gets a pretty cursory glance as a secondary character but between the few scenes where the storyline of his life in Germany following the passing of his late wife is expanded and the scenes that he shares with his son Robinson manages to steal the show. The best season is a long monologue Curtis Gentry delivers to Morris as he drives him home from the latest bit of trouble his crush has managed to get him in. It’s right up Robinson’s alley, funny but with a lot of heart, Hartigan doesn’t go out of his way to try and make his audience cry which is a refreshing touch in an indie film like this. Instead Morris From America is genuine allowing for the viewer to connect to the characters as opposed to just putting a string score over something sad or overly happy.
Robinson is obviously the stand out from the supporting cast but Lina Keller, Katrin, and Carla Juri, Inka Morris’s tutor, also give strong performances. But it is Markees Christmas, who plays Morris, who gives the most surprising performance of the whole cast. It’s been a strong summer for child actors a group that usually only manages to impress me by being a differing degrees of bad instead with Markees Christmas and the cast of Stranger Things I find myself actually enjoying some of these child actors’ performances despite my best judgement. It doesn’t help Christmas’s case that his performance is particularly close to home for me. He’s a young black boy falling in love with hip-hop, art, and women and struggling with all of those. Women in particular prove to be a problem for young Morris, from being led into a practical joke to being deserted in an entirely different city in a grown men’s bathtub, there isn’t really much good that comes to the 13-year old because of women—something that I think we can all relate to.
Hartigan is still a fairly rookie director which does come across at times. He clearly has an asthetic in mind for the film which viewers get an idea of from a few beautifully shot dinner scenes and my personal favorite scene in the film where Morris is in an art gallery with his headphones on and the older couples around him begin to nod their head to the beat to the surprise of Morris. While I really enjoy the moments where Hartigan really gets into this comfort zone and has fun with the camera, those moments are too few and far between for my liking. In general, the aesthetic of the film seems so generic and flat. I am in no way suggesting that Hartigan should’ve taken a page out of Adam McKay’s book and completely overdone the aesthetic but the generic style detracts from the story that Hartigan is trying to tell here. By all the evidence I can see Heidelberg, Germany is a city rich in culture and some pretty amazing architecture, but the city disappears into the background of Hartigan’s feel. As does Europe as a whole, honestly this movie could have been set in any small town America the only thing that mattered about Heidelberg to the plot of the film was that there weren’t any black people. I’ve been to the Midwest, no niggas there either.
+Great actors especially in the main cast
-Hartigan still getting his sealegs