Theophile Baquet and Ange Dargent play French teens who toodle around the countryside in a tiny house on wheels in “Microbe & Gasoline.” (Screen Media Films)Theophile Baquet and Ange Dargent in “Microbe & Gasoline.” (Screen Media Films)

Theophile Baquet and Ange Dargent play French teens who toodle around the countryside in a tiny house on wheels in “Microbe & Gasoline.” (Screen Media Films)Theophile Baquet and Ange Dargent in “Microbe & Gasoline.” (Screen Media Films)

‘Microbe & Gasoline’: Tiny-house tale too small for its own good

The handmade house-on-wheels created by the heroes of “Microbe &Gasoline” is surely the perfect vehicle for director-writer Michel Gondry. It’s adorably handmade and truly ingenious, but it tends to break down before it reaches its destination.

Gondry has made one great movie (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), a bunch of classic music videos, and an uneven batch of features. His foray into big-budget Hollywood filmmaking, “The Green Hornet,” didn’t find its audience.

His delight in constructing whimsical objects and meandering storylines is on full display in “Microbe,” which takes the director back to his native France. This is a reflection on adolescence, and how imagination can get you through the awkward years.

The title refers to the nicknames of the two main characters. Microbe (Ange Dargent) is so-called because of his size; Gasoline (Theophile Baquet) goes around with the faint odor of an auto garage—he’s a tinkerer at heart.

Misfits at school, the boys bond over a shared desire for escape. They build a flimsy-looking vehicle in hopes of taking a summer trip to the countryside. They’ve also got some grand ideas about living life independently.

After somebody points out to them that the rickety thing they call a car is not legal to drive on public roads, they get the idea to hammer together some plywood and make the thing into a traveling house—their own little homemade RV.

Their rationale is that if anybody stops them, they will disguise the wheels and claim the contraption as a tiny house. Hey, it could work.

Gondry’s taste for whimsy is actually tamped down a little here, by comparison to his work in “The Science of Sleep” or “Be Kind Rewind.” He includes episodes of bullying, and issues surrounding broken families, and Audrey Tautou (as Microbe’s mother) adds a little real-world presence.

If you’re in the right mood, this might click. But overall it feels as tiny as the boys’ house on wheels, a nice idea for a short film that doesn’t really sustain its 105-minute running time.

“Microbe &Gasoline” (2 stars)

Two adolescent boys build a rickety house-on-wheels and drive it into the French countryside. This whimsical coming-of-age picture from director Michel Gondry feels like a nice idea for short film stretched out to 105 minutes—a little too small to sustain itself. In French, with English subtitles.

Rating: R, for subject matter

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