What's the Recipe for a Coconut Hero?

Coconut Hero
(Canada/Germany, 96 min.)
Dir. Florian Cossen, Writ. Elena von Saucken, Daniel Schacter
Starring: Alex Ozerov, Bea Santos, Krista Bridges, Sebastian Schipper
Alex Ozerov stars in Coconut Hero.
Search Engine Films
What’s the recipe for a coconut hero? Rum? Whipped cream? Donuts? Sugar?
Nope, nope, and nope, but there’s a little of the latter.

This German-Canadian co-pro finds the recipe for its sweet success with the simple formula of:
Coconut Hero = Old Stock + Harold and Maude – granny panties.

This eclectic little indie is a twee coming of age comedy with a dark fascination with death. Amidst a few darling musical/dance numbers, young Mike Tyson (Alex Ozerov, Blackbird) toys with the idea of what it’s like to die. Yes, Mike unfortunately shares his name with a goofy celebrity. He reminds the audience of this fact no sooner than one can say Office Space. Rather than getting face tattoos or pushing his mommy down the stairs, though, Mike Tyson doesn’t share much with the doofus boxer besides a name. This Mike Tyson is more of a kindred spirit to young Harold Chasen (Bud Cort), the morbidly fascinating rich kid who gave birth to twee hipster protagonists decades ago in Harold and Maude.

Mike Tyson wants to die and Coconut Hero begins with The End of It All as Mike attempts suicide. He does so after writing a lame obituary that invites all his schoolmates to joke about him being gay long after he blows his brains out. Ever a muck-up, though, Mike can’t even successfully put bullet to brain and he soon has to face the consequences of his “Goodbye, flower” farewell. If Coconut Hero screened at a drive-in, Maude would surely ride up in her shiny old hearse.

Life in the fictional town of Faintville, Canada—modelled loosely on director Florian Cossen’s experience living in the Middle of Nowhere, Canada—doesn’t get easier for Mike Tyson as his mom (Krista Bridges) refuses to acknowledge that his accident was a potential suicide. Mike mopes. Mike pouts. Mike struggles with the selfish words of his peers and neighbours who wish he had just gone and died.

The script by Elena von Saucken and Daniel Schacter, however, then throws the audience an unexpected twist when Mike learns that he can actually die. The film keeps trying to give him a reason to live when thoughts of death can’t escape his head, and the sage advice arrives in an enjoyable flyby cameo by Udo Kier (presumably on loan between scenes of TheForbidden Room) who cracks some jokes about Germany and sends Mike to dance therapy. Cue Miranda (Bea Santo), the Maude to Mike Tyson’s Harold and the Patti to his Stock. Miranda’s dance class stirs something in Mike step by step and slowly, gradually, he finds that life isn’t all that bad.

Coconut Hero takes its team to learn the moves, as this expository review indicates, and if one survives the atrociously precious opening act, one finds that Mike’s story has a sunny disposition. The film is both awfully and wonderfully derivative as it heralds every precocious hipster comedy from Harold and Maude to Napoleon Dynamite to Ruby Sparks with an aficionado’s grasp of the Fox Searchlight Sundance acquisition library—and the look of the film, which is handsome for a modest Canuck co-pro, surely indicates that Cossen and co. have done their research. The self-awareness of the film subsides once Mike Tyson finds himself in Miranda’s care and maybe it’s because Miranda firmly rejects the archetype of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl or because Santos brings the film to life with a natural spark that Coconut Hero wonderfully and magically clicks in spite of itself. Just when one expects to hate it, the film melts your heart.

Take, for example, a pivotal ukulele scene in which Mike Tyson and Miranda (she doesn’t have a last name) improvise a funeral hymn for a deer they smoosh on the highway, which, incidentally, gives such a small bump that one may assume that roadkill wasn’t part of Cossen’s immersion in Canadiana. After digging a grave and resting in it for a minute, Miranda whips out her uke and the two jam about deer like two kids from The Sound of Music. The move inspires an eye roll, but as the two friends sing sweetly and riff about roadkill, Coconut Hero radiates a down to earth warmth that’s impossible to resist.

Most of the effort rests on the infectiously endearing effort of Ozerov and Santos as Coconut Hero grows on the viewer like a welcome tumour. Ozerov is a natural talent with his slumped and resigned performance as the awkward outsider. Like Cort’s Harold, Ozerov’s Mike Tyson is a sickly looking and removed boy who simply doesn’t know how to live. Mike’s gradual awakening gives the film ample spirits as he draws strength from Santos’s effortlessly down-to-earth spunk. As the characters open up to the experiences that live outside of Faintville’s gloomy borders, Coconut Hero gives an affectionate story about what it means to live. As Mike Tyson encounters death, the film strips away his romantic idea of the afterlife, ending on a refreshing natural note in a recipe with a few artificial flavours.

Coconut Hero opens in Toronto March 18 at the Carlton.
It opens in Ottawa at The ByTowne on March 25.