HOLLYWOOD—“Morris from America” has some things to love. It’s at times a charming story about growing up, young love, music, and those early experiences that shape us. Unfortunately, script problems plague what could have been a truly great indie flick.
The story centers on young, aspiring rapper Morris Gentry (Markees Christmas). He’s adjusting to life in Germany after a move from the United States. His father Curtis (Craig Robinson) and kindly German tutor Inka (Carla Juri) help him along the way. One day he meets the slightly older Katrin (Lina Keller) and gets a crush. It’s pretty much a slice of life drama that centers around Morris and his growing affections for Katrin.
The cast does a good job. Markees Christmas has a lot of potential. There were times when I felt he held back, but when he lets himself be in the scene, immersed in the moment, he’s great. As he grows as an artist, I think we will see increasingly better performances from him. Then there’s Craig Robinson. What’s not to love about him? He’s a bit more serious here than in his famous, deadpan, hilarious role in “The Office.” I like him as the earnest father.
He’s terrific when he encourages Morris to be more authentic with his rapping and delivering his monologue at the end. It’s not an overly dramatic role, but he plays it right. He’s casual, believable, and you already know funny. I hope we get to see more of him in these types of roles. We shouldn’t overlook Juri, who I enjoyed as the sweet, friendly tutor. Lina Keller should be praised as well for bringing a necessary liveliness to her role as Katrin.
I’ve seen some articles over the past few years that discussed a desire to see movies centered on black people that aren’t solely focused on their oppression. The desire is for films that show them going about daily life, romance, friendships, every day comedic situations, etc. I would have to say “Morris from America” fits this bill. It doesn’t leave race completely unaddressed. We sometimes see pretty cringe inducing behavior from some of the German characters. Morris deals with lots of stereotypes. He is accused of using drugs because of his race, asked if he is well endowed, and deals with other racial stereotypes. There were times I thought Inka was using Morris to make her mother angry, and I got pretty mad at her character for overtly using his race in this way. The film does do a good job undermining some of these stereotypes. I like the fact we see the assumption that Morris is a troublemaker, but it’s often the white kids who are encouraging him to use drugs and misbehave. Like I said, oppression based upon race isn’t the main focus though.
The center of the story is life and growing up. It touches on a lot of points. It’s a good exploration of cultural differences, and it captures a good deal of those moments you remember from your younger years; crushes, teasing, embarrassments, and taking that first hit off a joint. The true focus is on these widely relatable aspects of adolescence. It has a number of nice messages to like the bonding power of music and the way the people you meet along the way stick with you and make you the person you are. Despite all these good qualities I feel its problems ultimately made it fall short of what it could have been.
The script has some serious flaws. Katrin’s character isn’t as well written as she should be. What little we see of her beyond partying and having fun with Morris and her boyfriend is tension with her mother. I don’t think it was enough to give her character the necessary complexity next to Morris’. There were a lot of unoriginal scenes. To many for it to be dismissed. There are several that mirror “8 Mile”; Morris almost choking on stage, a scene where he looks at himself in a bathroom mirror. I don’t think we can chalk it up to homage. It felt more like lazy writing.
Overall it’s a decent, easy going drama. It just didn’t live up to its potential.