Charming, quirky and humorous, Microbe and Gasoline is a delightful little film about a couple of adolescent outsiders determined to forge their own path.
Microbe (Ange Dargent) is 14. A talented artist with his long hair, he is often mistaken for a girl, but he doesn’t fit in and he knows it. So, he’s a loner and in that regard he seems to follow in the footsteps of his quaint mother Marie-Thérèse (Audrey Tautou). A new lad Théo (Théophile Baquet) enters his class at school. Well-spoken and confident, others see him as an arrogant show-off, but Microbe is immediately drawn to him. His nickname is Gasoline and he is certainly an ideas guy. Treated badly by his father and with a sickly mother, he is good with his hands and knows how to fix engines. In short, Gasoline is an inveterate tinkerer uniquely untroubled by the opinion of his peers. He and Microbe, so named because he is a boy of relatively short stature, become firm friends.
As the school year draws to a close the last thing they want to do is to spend their free time with their respective families. So, they decide to build their own “house car” – a frame with small wheels propelled by a scrap lawnmower engine that, for all intents and purposes, looks like a cute cubby house complete with a couple of flowering plants. Then, without telling their parents, they set off on the roads of France in search of adventure.
Microbe & Gasoline turns into a feel good, character-based, artfully observed, coming of age road trip. The film certainly has a strong autobiographical element for writer and director Michel Gondry (who wrote the screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). He says he came from a hippie family in Versailles and was very cossetted by his parents. Further, he was always mates with outsiders at school. Those closest to him were kids who had been rejected by everyone else, with oddball parents. Gondry recalls one child in particular who was always cobbling things together and whose dad was an antiques dealer. He added other memories and that became the genesis for the screenplay
It is the movie’s ability to surprise (for instance, Microbe is trying to come to terms with his sexual awakening and that takes various forms, including his own explicit drawings) and its inherent humour that give it an edge. Shy and introspective, Microbe grows up and becomes more assertive in Gasoline’s company. Within Gasoline there is an inherent sadness (in terms of his family circumstances), but he rises above that.
There are a number of priceless scenes that are undoubtedly high points in the picture. Among them is the reaction of cops to the boys’ cubby house on wheels, Microbe getting a hair cut in a massage parlour and the pair being taken in by a dentist and his wife.
As I intimated, expect the unexpected. It is essential a joyous picture with twists that has the ability to put a smile on your dial. Gondry’s unusual upbringing has seen him craft a fine, small, personal and contained film that is sure to be a crowd pleaser. Rated M, it scores a 7½ out of 10. Microbe and Gasoline is showing as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television