Morris From America
Morris From America
2016. Directed by Chad Hartigan.
Take a coming of age film, add a minority protagonist, and use hip hop to deliver a story about love, loss, and finding one's place and you'll get Morris From America.
Morris and his father have moved to Germany after the death of his mother. His father coaches soccer while Morris learns German from a private tutor. Both Morris and his father are strangers in a strange land whose sense of loneliness is compounded by Morris's natural teenage angst. With dreams of being a rap star fueling him, Morris develops his first love and it's his odyssey from a shy and brash loner to a mature and thoughtful young man that is the centerpiece of the film.
Chad Hartigan delivers 2016's first genuine heart warmer. His thoughtful direction and brutally realistic script blend together to chronicle two men, one old, one young, struggling with their grief and fighting for the only thing that matters, each other. Craig Robinson gives a scene stealing performance as Morris's father, taking what seems like a straight forward role and turning it into a layered and often hilarious take. Markees Christmas is the film's heart as Morris. This young man's ability to portray deep rooted pain and childlike infatuation is so raw and matter of fact that the viewer cringes in his defeats and cheers at his success. Indeed, when Morris finally grips the fistful of steel you'll be clapping and smiling, despite knowing heartbreak lurks around the corner. Or does it?
Rounding out the cast is Lina Keller as the love interest and Carla Juri as the tutor. Keller manages to capture the dangerous forbidden fruit with perfection, enhancing the awkwardness by her approach to Morris's skin color and his dreams of being an emcee. Carla Juri's chemistry with Christmas delivers some of the best scenes in the film, with her rogue academic mentor who sees the promise and the bereavement within Morris and tries to help. If there is a criticism, is that Juri's presence is missed whenever she is absent.
Sean McElwee delivers some of the sharpest cinematography of the year. There are amazing wide shots of the stage drenched in vibrant color and lights. The close shots of Morris and his love are touching and so real that the viewer is instantly reminded of those first, precious memories of a deep crush. In this case, the camera tells the story by focusing on the slightest of touches: the placement of hands, a questionable stare, and the use of narcotics in the not so intimate backseat of a car,
The soundtrack is filled with amazing hip hop tracks that are a throwback to the height of lyrical rap, the very thing Morris's father is trying to teach to his son. In a world dominated by sex, drugs, and recklessness, Morris finds the truth by speaking from his broken heart and not by glamorizing his devastation.
Available now for digital rental, Morris From America is a hilarious, soulful rumination on coming of age as an outsider. It takes simple, American themes and contorts them into a crowd pleasing epic by setting the story abroad and focusing on the father and son dynamic, rather than the love story. Hartigan recieved the Waldo Salt award at Sundance for his writing and the film was quickly picked by A24, who continues to deliver amazing independent cinema, and this film is no exception.