Morris From America
Beachside Films / A24
Rated R for sexuality, brief nudity, teen drug use and partying, and pervasive profanity
Awkward African-American Teen Adjusts To Germany In Bittersweet Coming-Of-Age Dramedy
It’s hard being Morris Gentry (Markees Christmas) just now. The lonely 13-year-old is not only mourning the loss of his late mother, but is having a difficult time adjusting to life in Germany. He had to leave his hometown of Richmond and pals behind when his father (Craig Robinson) landed a job in Heidelberg as a professional soccer coach.
Now, the troubled youngster finds himself in the awkward position of being the only black kid in a school where classmates have stereotypical expectations of him as an African-American. For instance, they are surprised that he isn’t any good at basketball or dancing.
At least he does consider himself an aspiring gangsta rapper, although the only person he can impress is his father, since he only performs in English. But even his translated words would probably sound out of place so far removed from the ghetto, given how he writes lyrics about, “[F-word]-ing all the bitches two at a time. all you can take for $10.99.”
Despite getting daily German lessons from a tutor (Carla Juri), Morris fails to make new friends, and stoically asserts that he doesn’t need any in the same macho manner that he spits out his rhymes. Yet, under that tough facade, is a sensitive kid who wants to fit in and even has a crush on a girl a couple years older.
Katrin (Lina Keller) can’t help but notice and, flattered by the attention, she invites Morris to hang with her crowd, a rebellious lot that dabbles in drugs and alcohol. He accepts the overture, though he initially doesn’t know that the object of his affection already has a boyfriend. That means she’s more likely to remain a frustrating fantasy than a conquest he could boast about in his next song.
Written and directed by Chad Hartigan (This Is Martin Bonner), Morris From America is a bittersweet bildungsroman which never hits a false note. The character-driven dramedy revolves mostly around the very-convincing father-son relationship, featuring the talented Markees Christmas’ big screen debut opposite funnyman Craig Robinson in his first serious lead role.
The support cast also acquits itself quite admirably, the upshot amounting to a poignant coming-of-age tale which resonates as realistic from its heartbreaking beginning clear through to a satisfying resolution.
Very Good (3 stars)
In English and German with subtitles
Running time: 91 minutes
Southside With You
Miramax / Roadside Attractions
PG-13 for smoking, a violent image, brief profanity and a drug reference
Inspirational Biopic Revisits Barack And Michelle’s Very First Date
Who would ever think of making a movie just about Barack (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle Obama’s (Tika Sumpter) first date? Richard Tanne would, that’s who, and he makes an impressive directorial debut with this inspirational biopic chronicling a very eventful day in the lives of the future President and First Lady.
The story unfolds in Chicago during the summer of 1989 when Michelle was already employed as an attorney and living back home with her parents (Vanessa Bell Calloway and Phillip Edwad Van Lear). Barack had just finished his first year at Harvard law school and had landed an internship as her assistant at her prestigious, white-shoe firm.
Apparently, he was so instantly smitten with Michelle that he could barely contain himself. So, she had to politely remind him of the office’s strict rule against fraternizing among associates. Nevertheless, when she refused to consider a romantic rendezvous, he pitched her on the idea of attending a business meeting with him.
Once Michelle grudgingly agrees, Barack arrives late, yet is too self-assured to be embarrassed about either his tardiness or the gaping hole in the floor of his rusty jalopy. What the skeptical object of his affection doesn’t know is that he has added a picnic, a museum and a movie to their planned itinerary.
Again, Michelle balks, but consents only after reminding her earnest admirer that, “This is not a date.” Nevertheless, the smooth-talking chain smoker presses on with his own agenda, with the Art Institute of Chicago being their first port-of-call. And while perusing paintings by the legendary Ernie Barnes, Barack began broaching personal subjects.
The two continued to get to know each other over sandwiches in the park, with the discussion touching on everything from family to faith to blackness to the meaning of life. So, Michelle had a decent measure of the man by the time they headed to the South Side rec center where Barack had once worked as a community organizer.
The icing on the cake proves to be an inspirational speech that’s nothing short of presidential which he delivers there to the discouraged denizens of the crumbling ‘hood. Michelle’s floodgates finally open, undoubtedly helped along by one woman’s (Deanna Reed Foster) approval of her as the first sister she’s ever seen Barack with. Next thing you know, the two lovebirds head to the theater to see Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, before capping off the evening with a little canoodling while sharing an ice cream cone.
Southside With You is a syrupy soap opera readily recommended for rabid Obama fans. The predictable love story has a tendency to telegraph its punches, since its familiar plotline sticks to what’s already public knowledge. Overall, this plausible account of the blossoming of love between Barack and Michelle serves up a pleasant, if sanitized version of their romantic launch en route to an historic rendezvous with destiny!
Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 84 minutes
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