At times, it feels like the filmmakers behind Coconut Hero had a genre grocery list handy and were checking off various requirements for their film. A lovable misfit from a small town? Check. Well-meaning parents who are frustrated with their incomprehensible social-outcast offspring? Check.
Florian Cossen’s film is about a teenager named Mike Tyson (Alex Ozerov) who is determined to end his own life only to discover that he has a brain tumor which threatens to accomplish the task for him. The premise is exactly the mix of cute and quirky that we’ve all come to expect from this kind of indie coming-of-age comedy. However, there is more going on beneath Coconut Hero’s surface. Once you break through the familiar crust, Coconut Hero proves to be enjoyable in spite of itself.
Alex Ozerov’s performance is definitely a highlight. Indie film has no shortage of adorably weird sixteen-year-old protagonists, but the sincerity, wit, and charm that Ozerov brings to the screen as Mike would be hard for even the most cynical audiences to resist. It’s also difficult not to fall in love with Bea Santos (Save Yourself, Antisocial) as Miranda, a community center dance instructor who befriends Mike. Ozerov and Santos ditch any adult self-consciousness that is so often found in similar character moulds. Instead, these are true (if exaggerated) portraits of teenage awkwardness.
Even the most contrived scenes manage to be moving; mostly due to the overwhelming talent of the cast and the unusually clever dialogue. There is also a refreshing amount of emotional and existential depth in the film’s exploration of death, life, and growing up. After several failed suicide attempts, Mike sees his brain tumor as an answer to his prayers until his friendship with Miranda and reconciliation with his estranged father cause him to question whether or not he really wants to die.
One of Coconut Hero’s strengths is how it evocatively captures the way that being a teenager in a small town (or anywhere, really) so often means being strange and a little bit obsessive. Rather than let its plot or protagonist become melodramatic, Coconut Hero strikes a balance somewhere between black humour and whimsy – never letting it’s audience forget how absolutely absurd it is to be sixteen.
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