microbe_and_gasoline_2Year: 2016
Director(s): Michel Gondry
Writer(s): Michel Gondry
Region of Origin: France
Rating: R
Color, 103 mins

Synopsis: Two young friends embark on a road trip across France in a vehicle they built themselves. (Source)

It’s safe to say that no one sees the world quite like director Michel Gondry. He’s built a career out of exploring relationships through childlike innocence, juxtaposing sorrow and joy to present the points in our life when they become inextricable. Microbe & Gasoline continues in that same vein, but this time pares back Gondry’s typical visual decadence to find magic in the mundane. By all accounts, this feels like Gondry going back to his roots, grounded but still imaginative, sweet natured but laced with melancholy, as he rediscovers the joy of invention through friendship and first love.

Daniel (Ange Dargent), also dubbed Microbe by his classmates, is your ordinary grade school kid. Raised by his mother, the budding artist has got an overactive imagination, passing time by sketching his way through school, all while holding his own against two brothers and a first crush. One day, a new transfer student named Theo (Theophile Baquet) rolls into town and the two instantly connect. Theo, who’s quickly dubbed Gasoline much to his chagrin, turns out to be a talented mechanic, foraging scraps from mechanical parts and inviting Daniel to build a car which may solve the problem of their domestic ennui. Sure enough, their little project gets bigger and bigger, evolving into a makeshift house on wheels replete with geraniums and dreams of leaving their Parisian town for the Summer. As they bond over the excitement of discovery, they begin an adventure that will change their lives.

Blending adolescent awakening with an expressive road trip, Gondry takes two familiar ideas and spins them into something only he could, illustrating how we create our own reality through youthful invincibility. In contrasting Daniel and Theo’s home life with their eventual escape, Gondry creates two explorers borne of necessity. Presenting them through an observational perspective planted in reality, Gondry allows us to project the imaginary machinations which Daniel and Theo conjure to punctuate their everyday lives. When the two finally take off on their Summer jaunt, the film’s wild-eyed wish fulfillment never forgets the reality at stake, always mindful of what awaits the kids at home to crystalize the push and pull between fantasy and truth, along with their need to coexist. Though the film isn’t as cartoony as Gondry’s older work, the witty gadgets and contraptions are still around, this time centering around the makeshift, all-purpose vehicle that helps the kids to evade bullies, cops and even find shelter when they need it most. The result is a fresh, urgent spin on teenage abandon.

microbe_and_gasoline_3Naturally, the heart of the film lies in the relationship between Daniel and Theo, with stars Ange Dargent and Theophile Baquet giving their all to two truly memorable misfits. Anchoring the film is Dargent’s Daniel, who’s precocious but naive perspective offers us an emotional base. Constantly mistaken for a girl while struggling with his feelings for a local girl, his performance wonderfully evokes when we first started to question everything around us. Theophile Baquet’s Theo is larger than life, giving the film its swagger and attitude. His machismo is matched only by his innocence, blending outward cool with a hidden, inner struggle. Together, both kids are a blast, and we can’t wait to see how they’ll get into trouble next. Complimenting the pair and their performances is Gondry’s genuine script, which really allows them to be boys – they make mistakes, can be rude, and are continually testing their limits.

Microbe & Gasoline’s spirit of discovery reminds us how powerful childlike wonder and fearlessness really are. Delivering one of his most charming films to date, Gondry’s latest is touching and inventive, a bittersweet love letter to youth that evokes the power of friendship and the magic of movies.

SG