Morris from America

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Morris from America Movie Poster Image
Warm father-son coming-of-age comedy has edgy material.
  • R
  • 2016
  • 91 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Be yourself. It's an important lesson, but one that's tough for a 13-year-old to learn when he's still trying to figure out who he actually is. The task is made even more complicated by his feelings of isolation. Empathy is another important theme.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Morris struggles to fit in while living in Germany, so it's a good thing he has a supportive dad who helps him navigate the rough parts. But Morris lies to his dad about where he's going, leaving town without permission and getting involved with a group of kids who drink and take drugs. His dad straddles the line between helping his son learn from his mistakes and still being stern when needed.

Violence

Two young men get into a tussle, tossing each other against walls; one is left with a slightly bloodied head. A father and son bicker in short, intense bursts until they make up lovingly.

Sex

Teens flirt and sometimes kiss. A young teen embraces his pillow while pretending it's the girl he likes. A grown man calls a phone-sex line; viewers hear the woman describe some sexual situations in explicit language, though some of the conversation is in German with subtitles. Rap lyrics with sexual references.

Language

Frequent strong language, including "s--t," "f--k," "bitch," and "d--khead." Some of the German characters make racist remarks about the main character, who's black. He also composes rap lyrics that are filled with sexual references and profanity.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink beer at bars and while relaxing at home. Teens also drink beer -- and stronger -- at parties. Many of the young people smoke cigarettes and sometimes pot, too. One extended dance party scene focuses on a group of teens taking Ecstasy.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Morris from America focuses on a 13-year-old African-American boy's efforts to find his place while living in a German town that's not exactly welcoming to a black teen who barely speaks the language. It's an honest, realistic look at youth life, which means there's some flirting, plenty of swearing (words like "f--k" and "s--t," in both English and German), underage drinking at raucous parties, and some teen drug use (pot and Ecstasy). There are also some crude/explicit racist and sexual references and scenes that show kids acting callous and cruel to each other. But Morris is a very empathetic character, and ultimately the message is that it's important to be yourself, no matter how difficult that may be.

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What's the story?

Morris (Markees Christmas) and his dad, Curtis (Craig Robinson), feel marginalized in Heidelberg, Germany, where it seems they're the only African-American expats. They're certainly the the only ones we see in MORRIS FROM AMERICA, and it's clear that the main character, a 13-year-old from New York, is struggling to fit in. Curtis, a widower, works for the local soccer team (which doesn't have a great record), and Morris often hangs out at the local youth center, where the German kids either ignore him or tease him, sometimes crossing the line into bullying. Even Katrin (Lina Keller), the slightly older girl who seems to have a soft spot for Morris, alternates between flirting with and playing cruel practical jokes on him. It's hard to be 13 no matter who you are, and with the extra cultural and language barriers, it's clear that Morris is having a particularly tough time.

Is it any good?

This is a delightful fish-out-of-water comedy that's interesting and bold and brings something new to the genre. There are so many ways that Morris from America could have ended up like so many other teen-falls-in-with-a-bad-crowd films, but that's not what happens here. Instead, Morris from America shows us a real kid, with real issues, and a real -- as in living but flawed -- relationship with his father. The issues aren't huge on the grand scale of life, but they certainly loom large for Morris, a deeply empathetic character who makes this charming film so winning. He likes Katrin, but she vacillates between flirting with him and making fun of him with her friends. He wants to fit in, but he isn't sure about drinking or taking drugs with his new friends. Director Chad Hartigan and Christmas makes us care about this boy, who's not so sweet or so kind but is instead struggling with problems that anyone who's ever been 13 can understand.

The movie's moral center is Morris' relationship with his dad, who wants to be his son's pal but also has to rein him in sometimes. Curtis, played by an impressive Robinson, pushes his son to get out in the world but then worries about him. He's tough but sweet and loving, and it's a pleasure to see the father and son characters connect, even when they fight. The film avoids cliches and stereotypes about African-American fathers and sons, replacing them with an authentic portrait of youth, grief, the need to belong, and a search for deep familial connection. Morris from America may seem like a small story, but it has a huge heart.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Morris from America depicts teen life. Is it realistic? Relatable? Do you think Morris' struggles would be any different if he lived in the United States?

  • How does the movie portray drinking, drugs, and smoking? Are they glamorized? Why does that matter?

  • How does Morris demonstrate empathy? Why is that an important character strength?

  • How does Morris respond to his classmates' teasing and -- sometimes -- bullying? What do you think you'd have done in his place?

  • Talk about Morris' relationship with his father. Is Curtis a good dad? Is he too permissive, too strict, or just struggling to raise his son the best he can?

Movie details

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