I had hoped Morris from America was the Morris Chestnut story. A man can still dream. Markees Christmas IS Morris Gentry, an American living in Germany with his father Curtis (Craig Robinson). Displaced from his home, Morris has culture shock to deal with on top of regular teenage problems.
Morris is an aspiring rapper, but he seems more content to say shocking things than hone his craft. I get that. When I was a teenage film critic I had a tendency to make the most salacious comments over the more nuanced, in depth one. It’s the path of an artist to find their real voice.
Curtis is a really great father. His guidance ranges from practical things like leaving a note (five seconds saves hours of worry and future trouble) to recognizing when he has to let Morris make his own mistakes because there are some lessons you just can’t teach someone secondhand. When Morris makes excuses, Curtis says, “I believe that could be true.” What a wonderful way to empower your child while still maintaining parental authority. He handles Morris’s teacher and Morris’s offensive rap lyrics well. The teacher is overstepping to play armchair psychologist, but Curtis knows what trouble Morris could get into, and he’d rather push Morris to be a more truthful artist.
There is a tiny bit of abstract expression in writer/director Chad Hartigan’s film. Morris sees the people in a museum nodding to the beat of the music only he is listening to. That is the only time I caught something surreal. It’s welcome and appropriate, and maybe could have used more.
There’s also a bittersweet puppy love story when Morris falls for an older girl, Katrin (Lina Keller). Christmas gives an endearing performance, even when he’s making mistakes that make us cringe. Keller walks a fine line of stringing him along but making it clear where her affections lie.
Morris From America is a strong film about fathers and sons. Robinson shows he’s got heart and soul, while Christmas is instantly relatable in his very first movie.