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Review: Michel Gondry captures joyous moment of tween time with ‘Microbe & Gasoline’

Théophile Baquet, left, and Ange Dargent in the movie "Mircrobe & Gasoline."
(Screen Media Films)

French director Michel Gondry tells cinematic stories that are at once deeply personal and filled with fantastical possibilities. The characters in Gondry films actually do the things that they dream up — erasing romantic memories (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), starring in their own versions of their favorite films (“Be Kind Rewind”) — making good on their wishes, even if the reality is more complicated.

The characters in Gondry’s latest film, “Microbe & Gasoline,” have the same impulses, though the film feels more autobiographical and rooted in the real world than any other whimsical Gondry production. Daniel (Ange Dargent) is a misfit tween in Versailles (where Gondry grew up), a prodigiously talented artist getting lost in the eighth grade shuffle. When quirky, wild new kid Théo arrives (Théophile Baquet), the two outcasts quickly become friends, picking up the nicknames Microbe (for Daniel’s small stature) and Gasoline (for Théo’s motorbike).

Frustrated by their parents (Audrey Tautou has an all-too-small role as Daniel’s anxious mother), older siblings and unrequited schoolyard crushes, Daniel and Théo cook up a plan to build a car with scavenged scraps and go motoring around France during summer break. Surprisingly, they pull it off, setting off on their journey in a vehicle disguised as a garden shed. During the misguided adventure, they tangle with nosy dentists, Korean barber shop owners, the police and each other. As disastrous as it is, the trip is a kind of paradise compared to the obligations of family, school and work, one last boyhood hurrah.

There’s an immensity to the small dramas of this awkward in-between stage, where Microbe and Gasoline revel in no longer being boys, but not yet men. Gondry brings a sense of heartfelt nostalgia, pathos and humor to this portrait of a short, unique adolescent moment.

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‘Microbe & Gasoline’

In French with English subtitles

MPAA rating: R, for some sex-related material involving young teens

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Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Playing: Landmark Nuart Theater, West Los Angeles


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