The protagonist in Coconut Hero, Mike Tyson (Alex Ozerov), “not the boxer, a different one” as he is quick to point out, cannot seem to catch a break. The cloud of bad luck that surrounds him is so thick that the sixteen-year-old cannot even succeed in killing himself. Worst of all, as if surviving a suicide attempt was not bad enough, Tyson must live with the embarrassment of having placed his own obituary in his small town newspaper minutes prior to the failed incident.
As fortunes would have it, Tyson’s attempt to take his life inadvertently alerts the hospital medical staff to an even graver situation. It turns out Tyson has been living with an undetected brain tumor for several months that threatens to take his life if left untreated. While this type of news would be devastating to most people, Tyson is ecstatic that his prays to die have been answered.
Concerned about his medical state, a psychologist (Udo Kier in a cameo that is far too brief) recommends that the young man take a dance therapy class. Reluctant to go at first, Tyson finds himself drawn to the instructor Miranda (Bea Santos). As the pair begins to form a friendship, Tyson must face the realities that come with his declining health, and the sudden arrival of his estranged German father Frank (Sebastian Schipper, who directed last year’s one-take heist film hit Victoria).
It is easy to view Tyson in the same vein as those on the overly long list of oddball cinematic teenagers who could have been direct descendants of Bud Cort’s Harold in Harold and Maude. Teens that are picked on by their peers, frequently embarrassed by the adults around them and are ultimately too self-centered to realize that their problems are not really that bad in the grand scheme of things. What sets Coconut Hero apart from some of its contemporaries though is its restraint.
This may seem like an odd thing to say considering the film opens with Tyson trying to kill himself with a shotgun, only pausing long enough to leave his melodramatic mother (Krista Bridge) a reminder to feed the fish, but the film’s heart outweighs it quirks. Director Florian Cossen and screenwriter Elena von Saucken do a wonderful job of keeping Tyson’s eccentricities, and the film’s stylistic flourishes for that matter, at a reasonable level. When they do indulge in such endeavors – take the delightful choreographed bicycle sequence for example – it never feels like the central narrative is being overshadowed.
By keeping the film grounded it allows the actions of the characters to feel more earnest. One of the best decisions Cossen and Saucken make is not to make Miranda the typical manic pixie dream girl. Miranda refreshingly feels like a real woman, her world does not revolve around making Tyson happy nor does she feel obligated to help him. However, thanks to Santo’s fantastic performance, when Miranda does aid Tyson on his journey it does not seem out of place at all. The film also benefits greatly from Alex Ozerov’s charming performance as Tyson. Ozerov not only sells the comedic beats throughout, but also ensures that the character never becomes annoying. Even when the film threatens to veer off the rails in the middle section, Ozerov’s strong work gives the narrative time to correct its course.
In an era where film festivals are churning out similar types of stories on a yearly basis, it is a testament to Cossen and Saucken’s abilities that Coconut Hero is as engaging as it is. The film reminds the viewer that life is too short to be focusing on the negative. Instead, similar to Miranda’s instructions to her dance class, it is important to spend the brief time we have learning to harmonize with others. Featuring a smart script and strong performances from Ozerov and Santos, Coconut Hero is a charming and surprisingly sincere celebration of life.