At only 72 minutes, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea manages to undo and examine more teen angst than you would expect from an animated, coming of age, disaster movie. Pulling from his previous graphic novels like Cosplayers and New School, author Dash Shaw crafts an all too relatable world with sharp experimental imagery. Sketches, crayons, acrylics, and harsh outlines fill the screen, ebbing and flowing as the characters literally try to survive high school.
Sophomores and best friends Dash (Jason Schwartzman) and Assaf (Reggie Watts) write the Tides High newspaper in its entirety. But their bond is soon disrupted when Assaf and Tides High editor Verti (Maya Rudolph) start creating and delegating assignments without Dash’s approval. Dash pours his outrage into the paper, defaming Assaf and urging students to get back in touch with their roots. In his frenzy, Dash finds himself face-to-face with official school documents, meant to stay buried deep in the archives, that reveal the awful truth: the foundation of Tides High is sitting in the red zone. Before Dash can warn his fellow students, an earthquake hits causing the school to break off into the sea along with its student body. What follows is Dash, Assaf, Verti, Mary (Lena Dunham), and Lunch Lady Lorrain’s (Susan Sarandon) journey to make it out of Tides High alive.
Shaw’s metaphorically exaggerated narrative of two outcast sophomores trying to make it out of high school alive works, partly because its length doesn’t allow it to be just another ceaseless commentary on the woes of youth and partly because Shaw is keenly aware of the energy needed to watch this film. It’s an exhaustive visual as the images are in constant motion. Character outlines shift from frame to frame, emulating angst, as they make their way up and out of the junior and senior floors, each obstacle stressed by Rani Sharone’s chaotic score.
But the film is balanced with humor, providing viewers with small and brief moments to breathe. Shaw’s characters are relatable, caricatures of high school stereotypes. The visuals are toned down when the army of jocks headed by the voice of John Cameron Mitchell and the mysterious lunch lady appear on screen. Shaw’s writing in combination with entertainingly distinct voices are more prominent than the always-moving images.
I could continue on with reasons why this film works but unfortunately, there is one irritating con. In its entirety, the film flows. It lacks plot holes because of Shaw’s choice to cut out some of the traditional structures of a coming of age story like parental influence, the pressures of academia, etc. The film is about journeying through the social structures of high school. But it does the film a bit of a disservice because there isn’t a huge investment. Viewers remain at the surface. It’s an entertaining commentary played out with striking visuals. Unless you’re keen on animation, you might be able to just take the film or leave it, even though I would highly recommend giving it a shot. It’s not emotionally driven or inspirational, but it is enjoyable and it brings something new to the cinematic table.
Shaw’s film as a whole is a complete depiction of life as a hormonal teenager where emotions are high and everything is a life or death matter. The good outweighs the bad with this film, in large part because of its originality. It adds something new in the midst of Oscar season. Having only been screened at a handful of film festivals, it’s not clear when the film will be widely released. But if you’re a fan of Shaw, Schwartzman, or animation, be sure to keep your eyes peeled.