Chad Hartigan's lighthearted drama Morris From America offers something rare: Its two central African-American characters are fully yet subtly drawn. They interact with one another in ways that feel genuine, the actors portraying a heartfelt father-son relationship and the director fighting the urge to get either too preachy or mushy. American expat Curtis (Craig Robinson) and his son Morris (Markees Christmas) attempt to make friends in Heidelberg, Germany after Curtis gets a coaching job for the local-- and terrible -- soccer team. Morris takes language lessons from local grad student Inka, played by Carla Juri; Hartigan smartly collides her cheeky warmth with his naïve (but sweet) bravado — he's learning about language and life. Morris needs the help since his mother has died, and he's surrounded by a bunch of very white German children who insist on stereotyping him ("Hey, MC Big Mac," and "Don't you play basketball?").
Meanwhile, Curtis is adrift in the dating world, attempting to make eyes at German women but getting shut down immediately by the ladies and his coworkers, a bunch of privileged cockblockers. It shouldn't be surprising that Robinson, a gifted comic, is so adept and natural in a drama, but it is disappointing that this is the first time he's gotten the opportunity to do so. Father and son rely on each other for everything, Curtis more than Morris once he starts staying out late after falling for sinewy Manic Pixie Mean Girl, Katrin (Lina Keller). She's hyper-curious about Morris and asks the 13-year-old if he has a "big black dick." Just with his eyes Christmas conveys the confusing mix of pride, shame and otherness the question elicits.