Morris from America might come up when you search for “soccer movie”. But even though it takes place in Germany, and is ostensibly about a black American soccer coach, the film is not about football and actually has no football in it except as a visual reference. I’m reviewing the film on my website really, just to let you guys know.
That being said, it is not a bad film. I am just perplexed on why movies like this get made. I recently read something complaining how the film festival circuit seemed to be filled with movies about 13 year olds coming of age, largely written and directed by 30ish white guys. In 2016, Chad Hartigan’s Morris from America was a big hit at Sundance. In 2018, Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade generated the same kind of buzz.
Both films are semi-autobiographical but transposed to, respectively, a young black American 13 year old boy, and a young white American 13 year old girl. Morris is played by a 15 year old, but Eighth Grade uses a real 8th grader. The stars of the films were both unknown newcomers who got auditions because of their presence on youtube. Both films are associated with production and distribution company A24. Both films are reviewed as charmingly awkward.
According to Variety, when Hartigan got the idea to make the characters black, it made the story much more exciting for him.
“Picturing that type of kid in Europe; it felt so unique. It turned it from a movie that I had seen, to one I hadn’t seen.”– Director Chad Hartigan
But he really didn’t know much about blacks or Germany, so to keep his film true to life, he relied on the black and German actors and producers for feedback and validation.
In the story, a widowed man (Craig Robinson) returns to Germany to coach soccer, where he had played and where he had won his true love. He and his son Morris (Markees Christmas) struggle with the loneliness and isolation of not fitting in, as they are the only black people in Heidelberg and don’t speak much German. This is perhaps the most difficult part of the story for me to accept, because while Dad is an affable guy, surely he would be the fattest soccer coach in Germany.
Morris has trouble integrating because he doesn’t play any sports, but he and his father both love rap. For reasons that are hard to understand, a pretty 15 year old classmate (who in my day we would have labelled as “fast”) takes an interest in Morris. Although she has a DJ as a lover, she leads Morris to experience cigarettes, weed, partying, alcohol, and ecstasy. And she encourages his rapping. SPOILER ALERT: In the end, Morris and his Dad bond over lost love.
Although I didn’t care for the story, the writing, directing, and acting are outstanding. My favorite is Carla Juri, a Swiss actress who plays Morris’ German language tutor and confidante.
6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6 (because it’s not really a soccer movie)