Sydney Film Festival Review: Morris From America (Germany/USA, 2016)

One part coming of age tale, one part family drama and two parts fish out of water story, Morris from America is the third feature film from Indie Writer/Director Chad Hartigan, which had its Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival.

The film stars comedian Craig Robinson alongside newcomer Markees Christmas, as Curtis Gentry and 13 year old Morris Gentry, an African American father and son who move to Germany after the death of Curtis’ wife and Morris’ mother. Working in the relatively small town of Heidelberg, both halves of the family find it hard to fit in, while Curtis works as a coach for a local Football team. The story is mostly told, however, from the point of view of the film’s namesake, as he tries to make new friends, learns the local language through studies with Inka (Carla Juri) and grow his talents as a rapper.

The story is both a fish out of water tale as well as a coming of age story for Morris, as he enters his teenage years in a foreign country, far removed from the New York sensibility he’s used to. In the German city he meets 15 year old Katrin (Lina Keller), who plays the part with a certain Lolitaesque quality, and immediately captures his attention. First love discovered? Tick! And two years his senior, too.

The film doesn’t shy away from any of the talking points we might often see in a story about adolescence, often taking them one step further than you expect. As he starts to hang out with older kids, he’s introduced to the local party scene, and later will engage with a pillow in one of the film’s most memorable scenes (for better or for worse). Markees shows himself to be a commanding actor, while Robinson is perfectly cast as the father. It’s not the sort of role we’ve come to expect from the Hot Tub Time Machine actor, but he plays role with a sense of humour and love for his son that bleeds through in every scene.

Hartigan’s script is strong, buoyed by the excellent performances, and there is some excellent cinematography found throughout. The hip hop infused soundtrack is also phenomenal, and look out for an appearance from UK artist Chad Valley. Though the film ticks a lot of the boxes we’d expect from a film of this genre, it still finds a way to fill an original voice in the unique setting, while remaining unpredictable and surprising. Put simply, Morris from America is a thoroughly enjoyable watch from start to finish.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Morris From America screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival

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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.

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