Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Two teenage boys are coming to grips with growing up and trying to find out just how they fit into this world in Microbe and Gasoline (opening today). It's a surprisingly touching, coming-of-age comedy from Michel Gondry, who brought us the cerebral hit Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Daniel, or "Microbe" (Ange Dargent) as he's called by his classmates due to his small size, does not fit in. Theo, nicknamed "Gasoline" (Theophile Baquet) since that's what he often smells like, is a new kid at school who is self-confident and clearly educated beyond his 14 years. Both of them teased and ostracized from the other kids at school, they form a connection and a real friendship that culminates in them running away together, or more accurately, driving away together, in a makeshift "house on wheels" that they build. They aim to get away from their crappy existences at home.
Microbe has a hard crush on fellow student, Laura (Diane Besnier), who doesn't seem interested. He is a gifted artist, but he's also a teenager, and spends a lot of his time drawing nude photos that he then hides under his bed. He has problems that any intellectual mind can relate to, and even at such a young age, he contemplates death and dying and seems to over-analyze every situation. Microbe also has very low self-esteem, which doesn't help given the fact that several people often seem to mistake him for a little girl. Gasoline on the other hand, has an extensive vocabulary and is cocksure, but he lacks empathy or real emotion. They're a match made in heaven complimenting each other perfectly, they make each other feel wanted, and they're the best of buds.
The film succeeds on the chemistry between its two leads, and due to the realistic, natural vibe the film gives off. This is one of those movies that just feels like a real slice of life. Gondry touches on universal themes of self-exploration, pubescent curiosity and the foreboding doom associated with growing up. He crafts two real people who are multi-faceted, and because of this, we care. Their plan for escaping reality is one that only could be dreamed up by a couple of young boys, but the deeper themes the movie tackles are worthy of any adult's attention. With Gasoline literally changing schools and getting uprooted over and over again, as the film implies, I'm sure he feels as if his home is on wheels already.
I waited until the last paragraph to share with you that this is a French film, fully sub-titled, because too often us Americans will discount a foreign film before even giving it a chance. I strongly urge you to give that chance to Microbe and Gasoline. It may change your mind about sub-titled movies, if you are one of the many that discount any film not of the English language. This film is foreign in other ways too, because both Microbe and Gasoline have no need or use for smart phones or digital technology. They spend their time doing chores to raise enough money to buy scraps, which they in turn transformed into a vehicle that came from the depths of their imagination. Microbe literally takes a crap on his iPhone, an action that I don't believe was included as a coincidence.
Microbe and Gasoline was a lot of fun, and both young actors, Dargent and Baquet, deserve accolades. This film, like its subjects, may not fit into the mainstream, but that doesn't mean that it has nothing to offer.
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Ange Dargent, Theophile Baquet, Diane Besnier, Audrey Tautou
Written & Directed by Michel Gondry (Moon Indigo, The Green Hornet, Be Kind Rewind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
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