A Film a Week - Morris from America

Being a thirteen year old sucks. Growing up sucks. Dealing with hormones sucks. Dealing with parents sucks. Dealing with unfulfilled sexual desires sucks. Dealing with own body sucks. It might be all be over soon, but that particular phase is especially heavy even if someone’s life is pretty stress-less. Just imagine how it would be like for a chubby black boy from America who is a recent transplant to Heidelberg, Germany where his single father is trying to make it as a football coach. Certainly, it is not very pleasant.

Morris (a newcomer Marquees Christmas) is spending his days practising his freestyle rap, writing rhymes, arguing with his father Curtis (Craig Robinson doing arguably his best work) about old and new school and learning German with his mentor Inka (Carla Juri of Wetlands). It is actually her idea for him to go to a local youth centre so he can make some new friends and get a chance to speak the language with someone his own age.

And that is where the things start to get tricky. It is not the white sheets and burning crosses KKK or police brutality kind of racism as it still exists in the USA, but being the only black kid in a pictoresque, old, but still provincial town, Morris stands out. The racism here is of the casual kind based on “common knowledge” like all the black kids should play basketball and the black kid is the first suspect when it comes to bringing weed to the centre. The guys there are not monsters, but they are, as our protagonist puts it, “dickheads”. Morris’ “gangsta” pose trying to cover the fact that he is still a confused kid and probably a big softie does not help either.

But the real trouble, as always, comes in the shape of a girl. A slightly older Katrin (a seductive Lina Keller) starts to hang out with him. Maybe that is her way to show her rebelious attitude to her environment. Maybe she takes a general interest in a shy, foreign kid. Maybe she just likes to play with younger boys until she rides in the sunset on the back of her DJ boyfriend’s motorcycle. Anyhow, her hot and cold games are rocking the kid’s world.

The writer-director Chad Hartigan, born in Cyprus, knows a thing of two about being a foreigner trying not to lose identity while fitting in another culture and how it is difficult for a kid to find a right balance. The tone he holds on to is bittersweet, not playing for the cheap laughs, not too serious and not too romantic, since all of Morris’ troubles will pass one day soon The director knows it, we know it and Curtis knows it (shown in Robinson’s “big scene”, a monologue about how love made him cross the ocean and land in a foreign country), but the kid still has to learn it the hard way.

Lively paced, well-acted and dipped in the sunny colours of the European summer, Morris form America is a very nice example how coming-to-age films should be done. Hartigan uses the tropes of the sub-genre to his aid and builds an earnest vision upon them. Growing up is a real mess, but we will remember our troubles for life. And as the time passes by, our memories will be sweeter and sweeter.

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