Sundance 2016: 'Morris From America' Takes on Heidelberg, Germany
by Alex Billington
January 23, 2016
One of the first real gems of 2016 Sundance Film Festival is the film Morris From America, the latest feature from filmmaker Chad Hartigan (of This is Martin Bonner previously). Morris, played by Markees Christmas, is a 13-year-old African-American living with his single father, played by Craig Robinson, in the city of Heidelberg, Germany. It's a complete fish-out-of-water story about the "only two brothers" in the town, but it's also a magnificent coming-of-age story that proudly emphasizes a "be yourself" attitude. It has a great soundtrack utilizing a mix of American hip hop and European techno, with impressive performances from Christmas and Robinson, and an amusing, funky vibe that made me so happy I came across this film.
This is usually the case with Sundance films, but I've never really seen anything like this film before. There's not much to compare it to, as it's set entirely in Germany but doesn't feel like it's overly European. It follows an African-American father and son in a story that is at times endearing, at times humorous, and most of all, thoughtful when it comes to the way the relationships are handled. At its core it's just a coming-of-age story about a boy falling for a girl (who kind of treats him like crap), learning lessons along the way. But by the end it's a reminder that no matter what other people tell you, no matter how much they say you should be less of this, more of that, or grow up – never stop being you. Only you. Be who you are and no one else.
This film embraces that concept wonderfully, and it works so well. Morris sticks out because he's not exactly very charming, he's either too shy or too blunt, which is where some of the humor comes from. However, he's not the most lovable character, and this is barely one of the minor detractors with the film, as the whole point is that he's figuring out who he is and learning to open up. It's not the best performance I've seen from a young new star, but then again, there's something so unique about Markees Christmas that I can't help but say I very much enjoyed watching him anyway. Robinson's performance is one of my favorite performances of his career, not at all comedic (a change of pace), much more emotional and honest and truly believable.
The best moments in Morris From America are the moments between father and son. It is indeed a story all about Morris and his interactions with various Germans he encounters, but there's also some very profound scenes between Morris and his father, Curtis. Above all, I found myself enjoying this film so much because it is so refreshingly original. It's also the kind of film that I hope some younger kids see and it inspires them to embrace their own personality, the things that make them unique. Despite Morris' struggle to be charming, Morris From America is the kind of charming coming-of-age movie I am so happy to have discovered at Sundance, and I hope it finds a big audience beyond this fest. When it comes to your local cinema - go see it.
Alex's Sundance 2016 Rating: 8 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing