Written & Directed By: Chad Hartigan
Cinematography By: Sean McElwee
Editor: Anne Fabini
Cast: Craig Robinson, Markees Christmas, Carla Juni, Lina Keller
Morris is a 13-year-old African-American who moves to Heidelberg with his dad, who coaches professional soccer. The film explores Morris's attempts to fit in with German kids. He falls for a girl at a youth club and she encourages him to open up a little and share his rapping.
What works is that while the film is emotional it plays it's cards close to it's chest. It's not over saturated more matter of fact. Direct and hard to read. As you are like the main character co Stanton guessing you have your suspicions bit are constantly surprised. The film stays off kilter. It is a coming of age tale told through a different point of view.
The film is neither energetic nor droll. It moves along at it's own pace. The film is also neither as flavorful and colorful as it's backgrounds but settles into it's own tone.
As throughout the film Morris is made to interact with his peers to learn and practice more German and to have friends before the school year. His friendly and hopeful German tutor played with a stern cute nerdiness assigns him this. His encounters with her feel like therapy sessions of a sort and really one of his only friends.
The film deals with his loneliness. It also showcases his father's as they are the only ones they can really talk to and relate and as his son finds a kind of social life. It leaves the father more often alone. Played by Craig Robinson with all the right notes as it seems this year most of his roles are as a widow or divorcee. Here and on MR. ROBOT he is a widow so it is almost like he is a professional one. Though he truly shows his strengths in the scenes of bonding with his son. Which I truly appreciate about this film is those moments between father and son. Showcasing their relationship and his struggles raising him and relating to him.
It's rare when a film makes it seem so natural that they relate to one another as friends but you know who is in charge. It's also rare for a film to showcase fatherhood as both serious and comedic. Especially with minority characters.
This is truly Craig Robinson's movie to walk away with. As even though he is only a supporting actor his presence is felt throughout and showcases a definite leading man quality. Not to sell Markees Christmas out as this is a debut performance and a strong one. One that deals with as much internal turmoil then physical and he sells each scene he is in.
The way the events happen throughout the film is also more realistic. Not necessarily overly pointed they more just happen and go with the flow a natural rhythm that is never saturated.
The film keeps it simple with some of the cultural clash and thereby prejudices that make the characters at times feel like outsiders. Especially the son and how he is treated by peers and some adults.
While the film tries to show an American family trying to get used to a foreign culture. It seems almost a one way street. As it would be nice to see the German take more of an interest in theirs or believing stereotypes and break them down. Instead the film has most of them truly believing or suspecting the stereotypes and prejudging the characters. Though in more the scenes with the teens it is a mixture of race and hair plain shyness and ill communication that has the character of Morris more as an outsider.
The film seems to set up two ways in which the film could have gone with the father trying to bong with co-workers and being lonely and looking like he might be set up to try and pick up a woman in a bar. Though the scene goes more for alienation and revelation that doesn't involve much interaction. Just as later in the film we see Morris notice a ballet dancer and later she seems to watch him at a party and feel a bit sorry for him. Though nothing comes of that. Even as in other films these two situations would look like openings I to broadening the landscape of the film or opening it up to a more conventional outcome. Though that might have made the film to sappy and contrived.
Instead the film more focuses on Morris and the bonds he forms. With his father and with his crush. As well as his tutor.
The film could have been stronger in trying to define individuality and more the hardships of race. Though that might have hot too hard and changed the whole pace and lighthearted tone of the film. It deals with it in small doses. Just enough to feel it. Though it doesn't go in too deep.
As always the film feels fueled by the character of Morris being infatuated with a girl at school. Who is very rebellious and popular but at least talks to him. They develop a bond which of course always seems flirtatious as she seems to always be taking the first steps towards something, then falls back as he shows he isn't picking up on her signals and when it looks like he is making his move forward she looks game and then turns it around. So that it is an interesting tango of a friendship that fuels his interest and gets him to take chances.
The film offers a perfectly allegory of what it feels like to be a teenager and an outsider. By also showing how lonely it can be in a new country where you barely speak the language and there is no one really like you and you try g to adapt and get along when you stick out like a sore thumb. Especially as a African American surrounded by all Caucasians who don't speak the same language and come from a different cultures as you and you are not heir turf.
The film is more a story of heartbreak then of first love. As the girl he is in love with has more of a fascination with him because he is different and new to her an outsider. Rather then actually being physically or romantically attracted to him.
I liked that the film touches on race but doesn't make the film all about race.
Even if the film offers those moments that most films would exploit as the pinnacle scenes or ending here happen so quickly and abruptly that they correctly feel more everyday and don't necessarily hold so much dramatic weight. Which is how it would be in life also. As the most dramatic encounters and memorable moments come out of nowhere.
You get the hunch that she likes him and knows he likes her as it is obvious. Though tends to act naive. Then again he seems to be the only person who interests her in that town and who really gets to know her no matter how aloof she can be. As he is different and she feels that way around everyone else. It might also be because around him it is the only town she is in power yet doesn't realize the strength she has with it. Then doesn't exactly know how to handle the consequences. As she seems to want to keep it as a friendship, but maybe more in the future. They are locked in a constant struggle of sorts.
One scene that really got me was the private scene of him with ans the girl's sweater and how he dressed up his pillow and danced with it as well as what happens after. As that was a scene that was so personal and embarrassing that i believe most in the audience won't admit it but can identify to a degree with the scene. Just as the scene when him and her dance badly like no one is watching in a limbs flailing duet of sorts. Plus she does inspire him.
She seems essential as do most of the characters again including Carla Juni as his teacher who seems to have a rough around the edges sweetness to her character. As she is never quite in fashion and always looks disheveled. Though matches what a older student doing this kind of work to graduate would look like. This is a total departure from her in WETLANDS. Where she was a beautiful but disgusting tomboy.
Just as I believe most who watch this film will be charmed and find something inspirational in it.