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Morris from America is an endearing coming-of-age story that carries itself largely on the back of its likable cast of characters and intriguing premise, but too often relies on familiar tropes to truly stand out.
Morris (Markees Christmas) is a 13 year old American that is living with his father Curtis (Craig Robinson) in Germany. Neither of them exactly fit in, but they’re doing their best and they want to make it work. Things get complicated when Morris starts going to a youth center and starts developing a bizarre relationship with a girl named Katrin (Lina Keller), who may turn out to be a dangerous influence.
At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Morris from America as a generic fish-out-of-water, preadolescence coming-of-age story. It checks all the recognizable tropes – the new kid that’s an outsider, the one-dimensional bully, the love interest that’s more trouble than she’s worth. There’s even a talent show around the halfway mark.
What makes the movie work is the charming pairing of Robinson and Christmas, that have a great father-son dynamic that feels easygoing and genuine. The unusual setup of the two coming to terms with living in Germany also makes the stale, overused tropes feel a little more interesting and fresh.
Morris is a good kid that still has a lot to learn and for the most part, the movie makes it worth getting to grow up with him. One of the things that he connects with his father the most over is rap music and Morris from America is at its best when it taps into that and just lets the two work off each other.
Easily one of the best scenes involves Curtis chastising his son for writing lyrics that don’t reflect his own personality and character. It’s not a complex deconstruction of rap or anything like that, but it’s genuine and it does have something to say about the medium and creative expression in general.
The focus on rap music is also reflected in the soundtrack, which is pretty good. The selection of tunes was catchy, memorable and wonderfully juxtaposed against the picturesque German scenery.
It’s not a particularly funny movie, but it does maintain a light, breezy tone that often will get a chuckle or a smile out of you.
Where Morris from America falls short is its over-reliance on the familiar and the predictable. Even at about 90 minutes it starts to overstay its welcome when it hits the same beats that these types of stories have been doing for decades. The generic trumps the movie’s charm to an extent that doesn’t ruin the overall experience, but is undoubtedly noticeable.
The movie truly shines when Morris is with his father, or with his German teacher Inka (Carla Juri), but it insists on spending time on Katrin, whose blossoming kind-of romance with Morris simply isn’t interesting enough to justify being so crucial.
It might have been more interesting if Morris formed a bond with someone over a different genre of music, which would have added an additional layer to the story. His relationship with Katrin touches on that somewhat, as she’s very into EDM, but it’s never really explored that much.
That being said, Morris from America is a short movie with mostly likable characters played by talented actors that has enough going for it to warrant at least a look. It’s not groundbreaking or particularly unique, but it’s by no means bad. It’s just a little too safe.