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Sundance London 2016 Review: Morris From America



Reviewer: Kat Kourbeti

Director: Chad Hartigan

Stars: Craig Robinson, Carla Juri, Lina Keller, Markees Christmas

Certificate: tbc

Screening at Sundance London on 3rd and 5th of June

In a heartwarming but confused coming-of-age story, Morris Gentry (Christmas), 13, has just moved to Heidelberg in Germany with his dad Curtis (Craig Robinson). He’s lonely, he hates it there, and just when he starts to make friends, “shit” (and I quote) “gets real”.

At the behest of his German tutor Inka (Carla Juri), Morris joins a local youth centre, where teens gather to play sports, show off their talents, and pass their time. He starts crushing on a beautiful German girl, and does everything he can to win her favours, but he’s thwarted at every turn. Katrin (Lina Keller) is simply ethereal, a force of nature not to be tamed. At 15 she’s already a party girl, dating a DJ, smoking, doing ecstasy, irreverently shutting her mother out for no good reason at all. Morris is enthralled by her, and his brief sojourn in Katrin’s world is the kind of wildness that most people don’t experience until their 20s.

Yet it’s less about the drugs and the partying and more about Morris trying to find himself, searching for identity in rap music and language skills and friendship. As the only foreigner (and only black kid) in his group, his isolation is intensified, and in return so are his attempts at establishing his voice. His raps are mere mimicry of gangsta freestyle beats about experiences he’s never had, which come off clumsy and betray how little he knows about the world (and about himself).

After getting in trouble twice for his explicit raps, and getting stranded in Frankfurt when Katrin and her DJ boyfriend leave him behind, Morris finally confides in his dad about his doomed romance and finds out, much to his surprise, that his dad understands him more than he ever imagined. As the two drive back home, their mutually-supportive relationship solidifies and Morris begins to realise that everything will, in fact, be okay.

There is a major surprise in Craig Robinson’s acting chops here, being mostly known for such cinema gems as Pineapple Express, Hot Tub Time Machine, and This Is The End. His German language skills are actually quite impressive, as are his character’s parenting techniques (a non-spoiler: he’s the coolest and best dad on screen I’ve seen in a while), but it is Markees Christmas’ earnest and truthful performance as Morris that makes him the real breakout star of the film.

What’s most refreshing about the film is the foreign element, the landscape of Germany and the sounds of the German language that seamlessly weave in and out of Morris’ mostly American narrative. It makes him that much more a fish out of water, and it works beautifully. While the narrative’s footing is shaky at best, the parallel between it and Morris’ evolution cannot be denied. If the film is unsure of what its message is, it’s because Morris is just as unsure of what he has to say and what his place is in the world – but as Inka pointedly tells him, “there’s no rush to be old”.

And indeed, there isn’t.

Kat is a film critic and speculative fiction writer based in London. She is a Hugo Award-nominated Podcast Editor at Strange Horizons magazine, and contrary to what her accent might suggest, is not from North America. You can follow her on Twitter and Letterboxd @darthjuno.

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