By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
* This subtitled film is finally getting an American-side release come July 1, 2016 courtesy of Screen Media Films. Please check local listings for screenings and locations.
Microbe and Gasoline is a charming, optimistic and insightful coming-of-age story of two young boys. Together, they embark on an epic road trip when life at home simply sucks. Just how they managed to build a vehicle in the shape of a tiny cabin with a small engine to traverse France is beyond me, but this leap of faith works. The idea puts this film into the realm of escapist fantasy. When their decision to leave is based on the fact they wish to put behind a miserable life, I can certainly see the reasons why.
Both are outcasts. The younger of the two, Microbe aka Daniel (Ange Dargent) is the quieter of the two (and runt of the family). He gets bullied at school. Théo (Théophile Baquet) is nicknamed Gasoline because he often smells like he works at a garage. Nobody at middle school is fond of being near him. He does not let the insults tossed at him hurt. He wears a stylish imitation leather jacket that Michael Jackson might envy.
From planes flying backwards, trains going the wrong way and an automobile (if their motor vehicle can be called that) managing to cross at least a third of the country, I just had to laugh along with the antics in director Michel Gondry’s film. It had a moment I remember from long ago even though the circumstances were different. My buddy got mistaken as a lady because of his long hair and he was as gangly as Microbe.
I found myself really enjoying the latter half of the movie when the two are finally on the road. The humour is light and the situations went from absurd to engaging. Just how they managed to escape the maniac dentist had me wondering how isolating the French countryside is.
While this story is more about Microbe learning how to fend for himself, the moments were equal parts looking into both these leading character’s lives. Gasoline makes for an interesting mentor and I could not help but notice a few similarities with a certain American-made TV series set in the 50’s. The two are kind of like Richie and Fonzie in Happy Days. In this show, Rich is the scrawny one who finds a friend in the tough guy who thinks he can not fit in with a regular crowd.
In what these two discover is true friendship. Despite some squabbles they had on the road, they managed to mend fences. This film is worth seeking out just to see how their life can be handled on a cinematic landscape from a talented filmmaker perhaps drawing on his own experiences when penning this story. Gondry is better known for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and The Green Hornet (2011). Although the latter did not fare as well at the box office, I feel the problem laid with how the producers played with the material. I can not blame Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Gondry much. It was a studio product. Plus, I really hoped Stephen Chow would play the role of Kato.
With this movie, this filmmaker has more control. He wrote and directed this product. This movie felt like it was developed from his heart.
4½ Stars out of 5