MORRIS FROM AMERICA – Sundance ’16 Review


Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

This entry in the US Dramatic competition is a coming-of age story of a young Black American boy who has moved to Germany to be with his father. The film explores cultural and individual alienation as well as the transcendent nature of music and art across culture. Morris From America is an extremely touching film rendered all the more real by the incredible performances of Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson and Carla Juri.

This was Markees Christmas’s first role in a feature film. He was cast after writer/director Chad Hartigan saw him on YouTube. The bond between father and son is pivotal to the story and the chemistry between Christmas and Robinson is spot on. Many parts of the film resonated deeply with me because of my own experiences as an American growing up overseas. For this reason I developed a deeply personal connection to the story of a kid trying to fit in while dealing with the rollercoaster that is adolescence.

Music is seen as a way to connect with others while staying true to oneself. The films score is an awesome amalgamation of rap and techno. In a Q&A after the film, Chad Hartingon said the events were largely inspired by his own childhood in Cyprus. I felt that the film managed to capture the awkwardness and impatience of a 13-year-old.

A main theme of the film is interpersonal relationships and how these are pivotal to the human experience. The plot follows the trajectory of Morris falling for a beautiful German peer from the youth center. Female characters in the film are smart and independent despite the protagonist’s crush being mainly composed of mystery and angst. How do you say manic pixie dream girl in German? The trope is embodied in the young girl who enchants Morris and the catalyst for the young boy’s character development.

The contrast of two cultures inevitably portrayed by placing an American family abroad gives a unique perspective on both as well as the international community. Morris From America deals with forms of racial prejudice through the characters’ experience and refutes many negative stereotypes about the Black family that are propagated by mainstream American media. I would highly recommend this bildungsroman of a young American boy who loves to rap set in Germany.

-Alia Brandt

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