Microbe and Gasoline was very sweet. It’s the best thing by Michel Gondry I’ve seen since The Science of Sleep (2006). (There are three in that time period that I haven’t seen yet.) It’s a coming-of-age story about two dreamy, sensitive, inventive, misfit adolescent boys growing up in the Parisian suburb of Versailles, where Gondry himself grew up. The first part is about their conflicts with bullies and family, and in the second part they build their own goofy, Gondryesque motor home and try to escape their problems with a road trip into the French countryside.
The two boys have distinct characters, with Daniel (called Microbe because he’s small for his age) a self-doubting, romantic artist (c’est moi!) and Theo (called Gasoline — Gasoil in French — because he’s always fixing engines and smells like it) the self-assured, pragmatic mechanic. Gondry embraces the unresolvable contradictions in life, as when Daniel and his brother listen through the wall to their mother moaning and can’t tell whether she’s crying or having sex. The mother is played by an anorexic Audrey Tautou, who nails the role of the anxious, neurotic, overly-doting mom. It’s episodic and wandering, like a good road trip, but it gets home eventually, with a nice slingshot ending that suddenly switches to the beloved girl’s perspective.