The awkwardness of high-school is given an animated dimension, in My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea. Dash (voiced by Schwartzman) and his best friend Assaf (Watts) are sophomores at fictional Tides High School and write as a team for the school newspaper, edited by mutual friend Verti (Rudolph). Verti assigns a solo story to Assaf, who become closer friends, and Dash gets mad at Assaf breaking up their friendship. Upon being sent to detention, he finds that the school is built on an earthquake fault, and will collapse once the auditorium on the top floor is opened. Dash tries to warn everyone in the cafeteria but is ignored due to his low social standing. The high school collapses into the sea and slowly sinks, as the students have to work their way up the floors to the auditorium to get rescued, but encounter various obstacles in between. My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is written and directed by acclaimed graphic novelist Dash Shaw, and is rated PG-13 for some images of peril, sexual references and drug material.
Dash Shaw definitely remembers his time in high school vividly. So much so that the material surrounding his big screen companion piece to the critically acclaimed novel feels like a humorous, reflective stroll down memory lane, in all of its awkward circumstances and hierarchy of the hallway elite. By recruiting one of the more prominent graphic artists to depict a modern day vision of the scholastic system, we have opened our arms wide to a presentation that is every bit as imaginative as it is exaggerated. That second verb might sound slightly negative to my overall perspective on this film, but it’s actually labeled accordingly because of the animation that can fill in the character blanks where words and actions can not. Shaw’s film is very dark at times, relying on haunting visuals and catastrophes to hook the audience in to his unique point-of-view. Dash blends the worlds of unorthodox animation and dry wit sarcasm to offer a union that kept moving full steam ahead through the bar of obstacle that continuously raises with each act.
The material here goes much further than face value. On that end, it can easily be judged as Titanic in a high school, but from a metaphorical approach is where Shaw finds him most compelling vibe in storytelling, and it gives his movie a much needed dose of social commentary within the scholastic system. There are many hidden meanings that I choose not to spoil entirely for you the reader, but I will say that a couple of my favorites were that of the structure of the high school, as well as the symbolism behind this cold, liquid antagonist of sorts. On the latter, it’s clear that Dash is screaming at us how schools are our most important investment to the future of our children, commanding a lesson that is easily reflective within the troubles that we face in tax levies and overall funding. This school cracking at the seams is certainly no accident, but a lot more goes into the classification of these students long before any of them enter the work force. In this regards, the four-floor school, with seniors at the top and freshmen at the bottom, shouldn’t come across as difficult to grasp. I loved this concept because as our protagonist group of five race to higher levels, they go through that of the Sophomore and Junior floors, experiencing a helping of fights, labeling, and awkward romance similar to that of what we all go through during the supposed four best years of our lives. The seniors are the royalty of the school, and the visuals that accompany them are simply too delightful to spoil. Instead I will just say that Dash’s script echoes the voices of students lost in the fray over hundreds of years of social classification.
The visuals are entrancing, depicting a visual spectrum reminiscent of mid 90’s MTV in animation offerings. There’s very little that you can compare Shaw’s photo-shop motion work with in the mainstream world of film, but I did find the movements very synthetic to that of Daria or Beavis and Butthead, in that these characters move with their whole bodies and not just their legs. Because of these visuals, you can’t help but laugh and have a good time, a good sign in any movie. The backdrops were simply gorgeous and radiated a colorful personality in the movie’s ever-changing attitude with character conflicts and thought processes. A movie like this uses color for symbolism, and that direction led to what I can only describe as an LSD trip of every crayon in the Crayola box, displaying a decadent spin through this world that is literally crumbling down around all of our characters. My favorite aspect here, as I mentioned earlier, is that this glowing world feels like it constantly keeps moving, so there’s nothing out of the ordinary when we see snakes or rats to represent a truly detestable character. This gets across the point that so much of the exposition is limited to because of its brief run time (72 minutes)
Being that this was definitely one of the shortest review experiences that I have ever been through, I can say that among the movie’s weaknesses was this run time that hindered particularly that of the opening act, when everything feels rushed along to get to the point of the conflict. It’s not a poorly paced movie, but I feel like not getting to know these characters a little tighter is a big mistake, as very little stands out about them in this sea of faces. The only other weakness that the movie had was an ear-shattering musical score that consistently overtook the visuals that it accompanied. I was in a theater with arguably the poorest sound in town, so I can only imagine what this erratic, ear-piercing blend could do with credible surround sound. In that sense, I guess my experience could also be labeled as a positive, so not to put me through what could’ve evidently been much worse. Small blessings I guess.
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea never floods under the waters of adolescent responsibility, echoing a voice of awkward humor so strong that it often casts a warning to our own educational blunders. For a brief period, Shaw’s film succumbs to teenage angst under the magnifying glass, giving us a first-hand account of adolescent vulnerability, with a beautifully rendering hand-made aesthetic visual to boot. A real Twilight Zone offering in which anything can (And often will) happen.