By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
I have a special place in my heart for culture clash comedies, with my life essentially having been a non-stop and usually willful clash of cultures ever since a childhood that was outside most people’s norms.
Man, where’s the poor white ghetto amish bookish no-TV film and baseball buff box?
Morris from America follows a 13 year old rap enthusiast (Markees Christmas) from Virginia living in Heidelberg, Germany with his widower soccer coach and also rap enthusiast dad (Craig Robinson) who finds his normal teenage insecurities magnified by living somewhere he can barely speak the language and where every teenager is kind of a dick.
Morris from America boasts attractive sunlit summertime cinematography, old world charm meets new school fashion, and just plain style to spare. Director Chad Hartigan is clearly a voracious movie buff just from the look of his film, with classical 70s dollys and framing like something from Nicolas Roeg, Wes Anderson dioramic setups, and even pinhole fades like something from the Silent Era.
Markees Christmas is also certainly game, asked to carry a film that isn’t always sure of the tone it should be projecting and sometimes go down deeply embarrassing rabbit holes like the pillow dance (you’ll know it when you see it).
Not as, um, revealing as co-star Carla Juri’s big break…
Craig Robinson, though, deserves all the accolades he’s received, even some low-level supporting actor Oscar attention. Honestly, he saves the film in many ways as a father who has as much idea as any on how to handle those teenage years for the first time, and has to do it alone and in a foreign country to boot. His always perfect comic delivery, authentic empathy, and straightforwardness is just what Morris, and the film, need.
Hartigan appears to be a bit overly focused on style over substance, particularly in the case of Morris’s blonde object of desire, Katrin, who makes a music video entrance half the time and never feels like more than a foil and plot-forwarder. The asshole German kids also suffer from lack of characterization which could have deepened the film’s message instead of providing easy villains to root against.
The more out there fantasy sequences, like everyone in a museum including statues and stained glass figures nodding along to Morris’s rap, are a bit awkwardly inserted, maybe a bit too on the nose. Hartigan makes an admirable attempt at externalizing emotions that nonetheless never feels quite right, quite authentic.
Morris from America takes a good shot at a unique coming of age tale, and largely succeeds on the strength of a grounded father/son relationship.
Morris from America (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for outsider awkwardness
Take a Drink: whenever a German is a dick to Morris
Take a Drink: for good German beer
Take a Drink: for casual racism
Take a Drink: for German lessons
Do a Shot: for flights of fancy