Let’s be honest — Hollywood still has a fascination with WWII and Holocaust-inspired films when it comes to theatrical representations of Germany on the big screen. There’s action, suspense and a tear-jerking moment that is sure to get even the emotionally strong viewer reaching for a Kleenex. They also offer a pretty good guarantee of some serious cash for the studio (Saving Private Ryan: $481M, Schindler’s List: $321M, Inglorious Basterds: $321M, Valkyrie: $200M).
this might be the chance to show American’s the Germany of today
There is more to Germany though that is worthy of screen time, and when I heard of Morris From America and it’s focus on portraying the modern German life through the eyes of an American teen transplant, I thought this might be the chance to show American’s the Germany of today, and I believe it hit that mark, showing that modern Germany can still be the setting of a powerful story.
Morris, played by newcomer Markees Christmas, is a 13-year-old wannabe rapper that has his life uprooted by a move to Heidelberg, Germany with his dad Curtis (Craig Robinson), after accepting a job coaching a professional soccer team.
While Curtis’ personal story and struggles are touched upon in small doses throughout the film, including the hardships of having to raise his son as a single father, the focus lies heavily on Morris and his inability to quickly adapt to the culture of a new country as a teenager who is also trying to discover himself, his musical passion and newfound sexuality.
In the beginning, Morris has isolated himself from the other students in his school, with his only friend being his language tutor Inka (Carla Juri). But with a combination of her advice on getting involved at the local youth center and the rearing in of his newfound puberty, Morris finds a reason to break through his bubble.
Her name is Katrin (Lina Keller), and despite a few awkward attempts at conversation and her being two years older (that can seem like a decade at that age), the two slowly form a friendship that, with a mix of cultural differences and Katrin’s natural teasing tendency, set up the core of the remaining storyline.
Morris’ relationship with Katrin is a bit of a cat and mouse game. Clueless as to what life as a German teenager is supposed look like, Morris follows her lead, including an early confusion at a party when what looks like an embarrassing prank is later said to have been a part of a game that he was not privy to as an American.
Nonetheless the two continue to embark on the “friendship” where Katrin slowly pushes Morris out of his comfort zone while also encouraging him to get out and pursue his passion and dream of one day becoming a rap star.
“until you know shit, you need to rap about how you don’t know shit”
In his quest to let his rapping talents shine, Morris also has to figure out how to find his own voice. After seeing his son’s notebook of lyrics, including the line “Fucking all the bitches two at a time, all you can take for just 10.99”, Curtis confronts Morris with one of the movies signature father-son interactions that shows off the dynamics of their relationship: “You ever fucked bitches two at a time? You don’t know shit, and until you know shit, you need to rap about how you don’t know shit”
Solid advice in a unconventional family relationship.
Throughout the film, Morris is constantly finding himself riding that fine line of doing what is right and trying to let loose in order to fit in and find a new identity.
While his father is away on a trip to Berlin, Katrin seizes the opportunity to convince Morris to hit the road with her and some friends to see her boyfriend (the relationship is complicated) DJ a party in Frankfurt. For a teenager who is trying to fit in, being told you are boring if you say no is all it takes for Morris to succumb to her pressure.
It is a trip that leads to his largest life lesson yet, but it also leads to a moment when Morris’ dreams of a hip-hop career begin to shine with a new confidence and voice.
Morris From America isn’t a movie that has an easily distinguished story arc found in most mainstream movies, but it doesn’t need it. Instead, you are given a 90-minute window into the life of a boy as he struggles to fit in and find his true identity. It may sound like your average coming-of-age movie, but the choice to set the film in a foreign environment only intensifies the felling of isolation during this moment of growing up that everyone finds themselves facing.
It’s a movie of struggle — The struggle of growing up, fitting in, finding love and realizing that love can come from the ones closest to us.
“My job is to raise you right and its hard”
In its closing scene, we are left with one of the most powerful lines of the movie when Curtis realizes his relationship with his son has been failing:
“I’m not trying to keep you from experiencing anything. My job is to raise you right and its hard man, especially if you’re not going to be on my team. You know, I know, I put us in the fire by bringing us here. You may still be mad at me for that, but I’ll make the best decisions I can for you… period. Tell me what’s going on and I’ll be there for you.”
Morris From America hits select theaters August 19 and is now available on demand for DirectTV subscribers.