Fish-out-of-water and coming of age films are two staples at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s not too often when you get both in one film. Writer/director Chris Hartigan manages to do just that with the sometimes hilarious, but more often thoughtful, Morris from America. Considering how hellish it is to be 13 years old to begin with, imagine what it would be like to be a transplant in Germany. Add to that being black and you’re bound to struggle. Thankfully, Hartigan and his cast keep the misadventures on a realistic level — even if uncomfortably at times — ensuring that Morris never feels cheap.
Morris (Markees Christmas) is struggling with his new homelife. After moving to Germany with his father, Curtis (Craig Robinson), he deals with having to learn a new language — taught by his tutor Inka (Carla Juri) — while trying to find a way to fit in amongst all the white kids who don’t speak English. One day, 15-year-old Katrin (Lina Keller) catches his eye and he’s instantly smitten. Katrin takes a liking to Morris, but keeps him at arm’s length, always caught in the ebb and flow of does she like or not? While Katrin may invite Morris to parties, she quickly manages to ridicule him with cheap pranks like soaking his crotch with a water gun. Soon enough, Morris is learning the hardships of misadventures culminating with being abandoned far from home after following Katrin, and a band, on the road with some fellow fans.
Lionsgate Films squeezes Morris onto a 25GB disc in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Detail is on the high side with facial features, clothing textures, and interior facades showing realistic levels. Once the characters move outside, the contrast pumps up colors resulting in a slight downtick. Colors verge on blooming and bleed, but never get too unrealistic. Thankfully, black levels remain consistent and there are no compression artifacts to worry about. Considering the amount of rap/techno music featured on the soundtrack, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio keeps the party going. Dialogue is never drowned out no matter how loud the music gets, and bass keeps things thumping nicely. Surrounds finally get some use during the party sequences. English and Spanish subtitles are available.
The special features may not be overindulgent, but they make for as good of time as the film. “Making Morris from America” (11:22) starts off like your typical EPK, but quickly the director begins discussing the cast and how much he loved working with them. It’s interesting to hear Hartigan talk about finding Christmas via YouTube and a clip featuring Juri reinforces the film’s main theme to not not rush getting older. “Bloopers” (2:35) are standard and surprisingly never result in any laugh-out-loud moments, not even from Robinson, a shame. One “Deleted Scene” (1:18) features Katrin trying to get Morris to give her a hicky. “Casting Tapes” (4:28) feature Markees and Lina and it’s very interesting to see how much more evolved Christmas’s performance become with Keller’s being spot on from the beginning.
Hartigan has crafted a great slice of life feature showcasing exactly how awkward it can be to be a youngster. And how much harder it can be to be an outcast way out of their comfort zone. While it may frighten some parents to see teenagers involved with alcohol and MDMA, the life lessons always feel true. Christmas gives a fantastic debut performance, always managing to keep up with the likes of Robinson playing his dad. The two are hilarious together and, often, emotional. A particular scene with Curtis driving Morris home gives Robinson the chance to really shine and show that he’s so much more than Daryl from The Office. I’ve read that this film is how he wound up on Mr. Robot and I’m in no way surprised. I’ve always been a fan and he does not disappoint here. Featuring a really good transfer and an even better audio track, anyone interested in giving Morris from America a chance is going to find themselves as smitten with the film as Morris is with Katrin.