Thursday, June 30, 2016

Gondry’s Microbe and Gasoline

Even Mr. Rogers would be tempted to bully Daniel Guéret and Théo Leloir. It is not just because they are French (although there is that). They just seem to be striving for a nauseatingly twee ragamuffin look. Finding themselves alienated from their cool classmates and their square parents, the two lads head off on an unlikely road trip in Michel Gondry’s Microbe and Gasoline (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Being small for his age and slightly girlish looking, Guéret has been dubbed “Microbe” by his classmates. Leloir, the new transfer student, is a grease monkey and a bit of a blowhard—hence, “Gasoline.” Together, they are “Masoline” or “Gicrobe,” but mainly they just talk about girls and their families’ lameness. The working-class Leloirs have serious financial and health problems, whereas Guéret’s high strung New Agey mother constantly wants to solve problems he doesn’t have—yet, she somehow couldn’t find time for his rather impressive gallery opening.

By selling and bartering scrap metal, Leloir and Guéret (but mostly Leloir) kit-bash together a rudimentary car, but since it is not up to legal specs, they camouflage it as a comfy cottage. Conveniently, it also provides sleeping accommodations when they light off on their sketchily planned trip out of Dodge.

Clearly, Gondry loves these kids, because M&G is rendered with great sensitivity. However, it lacks the raw vitality of Gondry’s surprisingly entertaining The We and the I. The screen rapport between co-leads Ange Dargent and Théophile Baquet is quite strong. In fact, Dargent also has suitably awkward but potent chemistry with Diane Besnier, who plays Laura, Microbe’s crushy, perhaps fatally platonic friend Laura. Audrey Tautou is laudable unrecognizable as Marie Thérèse Guéret, a 1970s mother in a post-millennium world.

However, the narrative follows a disappointingly safe and predictable course. It might also be a mistake to have so much scrap metal collecting in a film less than three years after Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant (if you’ve seen it, you know what we mean).

M&G is a very nice film about friendship and loyalty—kind of the end. It is probably the earthiest film of Gondry’s eccentric oeuvre, but it still often feels self-consciously precious. Nice is indeed the right word for it. Recommended for those who dig auteurist after school specials, Microbe and Gasoline opens tomorrow (7/1) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.