Microbe and Gasoline | Michel Gondry | France | 2016 | 105 minutes
Edwanike Harbour argues that the latest film from Michel Gondry, Microbe and Gasoline, strikes the right balance between quirk, teen angst, and comedy.
The latest entry from Michel Gondry shows that he has a great deal of versatility. Known for his engaging visual style and fantastic elements (Mood Indigo, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), this buddy/road comedy definitely departs from his earlier work. It is definitely as solid as his previous work, however, in terms of narrative and character development. Microbe and Gasoline would make good companion piece to Taika Waititi’s 2016 hit, Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Daniel (Ange Dargent) is known, not affectionately, as Microbe. He is relatively small and looks much younger than other boys his age. He experiences angst about things many teenage boys worry about such as sexuality and fitting in with his classmates. Daniel’s mother (Audrey Tatou) tries to connect with him but finds herself exasperated in the process. He is a gifted artist however and spends his time channeling these anxieties into his paintings and sketches.
When Theo Leloir (Theophile Baquet) enrolls in his class, Daniel finds an unlikely ally. Theo frequently smells like gasoline because he works with his father who buys and sells discarded auto parts. Theo cares for his ill mother and manages the household while his father runs the shop. Theo’s good looks do not protect him from being bullied and mistreated as an outcast.
Theo and Daniel manage to bond. Using Theo’s mechanical know how and Daniel’s wild imagination, the pair construct a makeshift car out of junk. They plan to take a road trip through the French countryside. Naturally, they are not allowed to register the vehicle for safety reasons so they build a tiny cottage to cover the body of the car in the event that they need to pull over and hide from the authorities.
In the hands of a less capable director, this may sound like a hokey premise. But Gondry delivers a truly endearing look at the dynamics of friendship and the awkwardness of finding one’s place in the transition between adolescence to adulthood. I am admittedly not drawn toward buddy comedies, but Microbe and Gasoline is much more pensive and thoughtful without being too heavy handed. The humor stays woven into the film throughout as Gondry deftly handles the improbable zany misadventures.
The two boys complement each other well: Daniel is soft spoken and artsy whereas Theo is daring and brash. The existential conversations they have don’t affect the levity of the film at all. In one scene, the pair hangs out a costume party bemused by the debauchery that is going on. “Alcohol is the death of dignity” one says to the other. These are the moments when we are reminded that are indeed watching a French film, in an amusing way nonetheless. When the boys get caught on a couple’s property and Daniel’s imagination starts to run wild again, the caper that ensues gets right back into the buddy comedy territory. The film is buoyant and extremely fun to watch, not something that can be said for many great releases last year (Childhood of a Leader, The Lobster).
Life is full of tests and both boys handle them remarkably well given the circumstances. Even when Daniel and Theo’s friendship is put to the test, the growth and maturity they gain during this adventure shows that they both have come a long way on this journey. This film strikes a perfect balance of quirk, comedy, and existentialism which make it an excellent choice for Gondry fans.
Check out the other Missed Madison Film Festival reviews for Monday, January 23: