IT’S GRIM out there. With the world seeming like it’s thiiiis close to imploding into chaos, it’s worth considering what art should do: add insight to, or distract from, humanity’s mounting troubles. When the latter impulse calls, Michel Gondry’s latest, Microbe and Gasoline, seems to step out of better times. It may not be all that monumental, but the small, eccentric tale of teenage friendship offers much-needed optimism.
One of Microbe’s most refreshing characteristics is its embrace of unvarnished dweebdom: Teens Daniel (Ange Dargent) and Théo (Théophile Baquet) are outsiders at school. There, Daniel’s known as “Microbe,” an unfortunate nickname inspired by his diminutive frame, while new-to-town Théo quickly earns the somewhat more fortunate nickname “Gasoline” due to his fondness for tinkering with junked engines. While other details are amusing, this film ultimately is about lingering on the sweetness of these two lonely kids finding each other. And dorking out pretty hard.
After an unhurried prelude, Microbe becomes about the boys’ decision to fashion a car out of a garden shed (which can be quickly “disguised” as a small house) and take a road trip into the French countryside, running away from troubles at home, with girls, and at school. Gondry’s trademark whimsy keeps it hanging together: There are cops who fall for the house ruse, there’s the boys’ rejection of iPhones (a rather bald comment that’s cemented when Gondry has an iPhone literally shat upon and buried), there are strange encounters with dentists and jack shacks.
At one point the boys come across a Roma encampment that’s been torched, and they take a beat to deplore the sorry state of humanity. It’s one of the only moments where the film gazes away from its central relationship, and it passes quickly. Their childhoods waning, Microbe and Gasoline have precious time left to ignore such things.