My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea
Directed by Dash Shaw
Apr 12, 2017
Depicting a school as a stifling entity is not a new storytelling avenue. Students versus teachers and the often pointless-seeming rules have defined youth cinema for decades and literature for even longer. It’s an effective setting to use when establishing a conflict for a teenager, in this case Dash (Jason Schwartzman) who openly dreads returning to school for his sophomore year. He’s a stubborn, self-important, and arrogant boy who writes for the school newspaper with his best friend Assaf (Reggie Watts). A rift quickly comes between them as Assaf and Verti, the paper’s editor (Maya Rudolph) start developing feelings for one another. As their personal drama unfolds, the newest addition to the school – a new auditorium on the top floor – combined with an earthquake spill the school into chaos and into the ocean, as it was built on both a cliff and a fault line.
What follows is a surprisingly bleak and darkly amusing disaster film as the surviving students try to make their way through the floors to the roof where they would potentially be saved. Sharks swimming around their ankles and rogue electric wires block their paths, and more than a few fatalities occur.
Much of the narrative is fairly bland despite the generally inspired take on high school angst and combining it with a traditional disaster picture. What keeps the film afloat is its thunderous sense of style. Visually, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is like a painting come to life. It seems hastily completed with colors setting outside the lines, but instead of feeling haphazard, it helps build a sense of surrealism. As soon as the school goes out to sea, the visuals rarely settle for very long on a complete picture of the characters standing in front of a lit background. Instead, there is often a lot of negative space, drawing the eyes to a glow or a silhouette. Combined with Rani Sharone’s intense score, the feel of the movie winds up boosting the narrative. It’s a crisp 75 minutes without much filler, as though writer-director Shaw knew he simply needed something straightforward in service of the aesthetic choices.
Perhaps with a more detailed script and more realized characters beyond the surface tropes, it would work as a fuller piece of art. The voice cast is fine – who better than Schwartzman to play a self-involved, petulant teenager even now? – but doesn’t have to do much heavy lifting. Few characters have enough to do to shine. The star football player who presents a bit of an obstacle to the ragtag group of heroes is a missed opportunity, while Lunch Lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon) never quite works as anything beyond a silly gimmick to mixed success. Despite the numerous problems with character and the generally flat script, it’s an exhilarating piece of animation that breaks conventions and teases at further possibilities in future projects.
Author rating: 7/10
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