The latest film by Michel Gondry is a typically whimsical affair, and taken at face value it’s concerned with little other than the summer holiday adventures of two uncool 14-year-old French boys, but as you’d expect from this director it has a considerable amount of quirky charm. It helps that the two main characters induce waves of sympathy and are eminently likeable from the off. Daniel (Ange Dargent) is a scrawny, shy kid who struggles to fit in at school and must fight for attention at home, where he tiptoes around two older siblings and a pair of distracted parents. His classmates have cruelly give him the nickname ‘Microbe’, he’s too scared to act on a crush and he regularly gets mistaken for a girl due to his long-ish hair. Also given a nickname is ‘Gasoline’, aka Théo (Théophile Baquet), the new kid in school; he earns the moniker on account of his fondness for engines, motors and the like, but sadly his status as a grease monkey means he’s an instant outcast in the playground. It’s natural, then, that these two misfits should become friends, and soon enough they begin making plans to go on a road trip, building a motorised kart/shed contraption that they can drive on the backroads south-east of Paris.
At times it’s hard to make a case for Microbe & Gasoline being anything other than a standard coming-of-age story, even though it splutters along in the guise of a directionless road movie, but I guess when you’re young and it’s the school holidays plodding aimlessness is something of a pre-requisite. All fine by me: the developing bromance may be a very familiar sight, but it’s also handled sweetly, and I always feel better after watching a Gondry film—few directors exhibit the same genuine level of warmth towards their characters. The director’s usual playfulness is manifest through Microbe and Gasoline’s shared creativity – the film shares the same appreciation for lo-fi DIY previously seen in Be Kind Rewind – though his penchant for cutesy (or wacky) surrealism can grate at times. A sequence in which a plane takes off with the boys on board is subsequently re-wound, for example, and Microbe comments on the fact that their plane ‘landed backwards’; a second or two later an edit subsequently places the pair on a train, and Microbe is perplexed as to how he got there, claiming to have no memory of anything in-between the plane landing and train departing. (Such self-aware idiosyncracy is a regular feature of Gondry’s films, though, so it’s hardly a surprise that it plays a fairly major part here.) Perhaps aware that the film is so light it’s in danger of floating away, Gondry tries to inject a little grit into proceedings, so we see the remnants of a Roma camp after it has been set alight, while there are sequences featuring an aggressive Korean gang; it’s all a little disjointed, to be honest, and doesn’t really fit with the director’s style. Still, overall it’s a simple, likeable film, daring enough in its depiction of pubescent sexuality to earn a ’15’ rating in the UK, and Gondry confidently implements a bittersweet ending.
Directed by: Michel Gondry.
Written by: Michel Gondry.
Starring: Théophile Baquet, Ange Dargent, Audrey Tautou, Diane Besnier.
Cinematography: Laurent Brunet.
Editing: Elise Fievet.
Music: Jean-Claude Vannier.
Running Time: 102 minutes.