Mark Reviews Movies

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea

MY ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL SINKING INTO THE SEA

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Dash Shaw

Cast: The voices of Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph, Susan Sarandon, Thomas Jay Ryan, Alex Karpovsky, Louisa Krause, John Cameron Mitchell

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some images of peril, sexual references and drug material)

Running Time: 1:15

Release Date: 4/14/17 (limited); 5/5/17 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 4, 2017

You get one guess—and only one guess—as to what the story of My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is about. You only get one guess, because you only need one. Plus, all of your other guesses are going to be required for trying to determine what the purpose of that story is.

A high school does indeed sink into the sea in writer/director Dash Shaw's debut feature, an animated satire of high-school life mixed with elements of a disaster movie. It's an animated movie, by the way, intentionally drawn in the style of an amateur young artist—all squiggly lines, uncertain perspective, jittery and skip-filled motion, some colors that bleed from one surface to another. This isn't a criticism or an insult of the movie's style, because that might be the most effective element of the movie. It's endearing in a way, especially when we first see a diagram of the school and the geological breakdown of the cliff upon which it's perched. An arrow points to a certain section of the earth, and big letters announce that this is a "FAULT LINE."

It's a style that complements the material, in that it's drawn in the vein of someone in high school who's talented enough to make some sense of the artistic chaos of these drawings but smart enough to know that there will be some gaps in the viewer's comprehension. That fits the tone and theme of the story, which are also of that high-school mindset, in which everything and everyone but the things and people you like completely suck. If only people could see life in the way that you see it, the world just might be a better place. Even if that's not true, at least everyone would be as miserable as you are.

In other words, the movie's hero is pretty much insufferable—a kid who thinks he knows everything and, if he doesn't know it, he definitely knows that everyone else's opinion on the matter is wrong. He's named Dash (voice of Jason Schwartzman), which suggests that the movie is at least semi-autobiographical—except, we have to assume, the entire notion of the plot. Dash arrives at school one day, gets into a fight with his best friend Assaf (voice of Reggie Watts) and the editor of the school newspaper Verti (voice of Maya Rudolf) over the journalistic direction of the paper, and ends up even more alone than he was before.

The "good" news is that he uncovers a conspiracy of shoddy construction on the part of Principal Grimm (voice of Thomas Jay Ryan), who wears an eyepatch (The other staff and faculty members have similar quirks—one teacher has hair that makes her look vaguely like a Greek statue). A new auditorium is being built on the upper level of the school, but the addition will make the entire building unstable. Dash alerts his schoolmates. Nobody believes him, but he has plenty of opportunities to tell everyone that he told them so. The edge of cliff collapses into the sea, along with the school and all of its occupants.

The movie is, to borrow the surname of the principal, grim. It exists as some kind of fantastical wish-fulfillment, in which the guy whom nobody likes—and who is convinced that nobody understands him—gets to have all of his assumptions confirmed and his opinions justified. The popular girl still won't give him the time of day, even when he offers his hand to help her escape from a shiver of sharks (The size of the sharks is one of those obvious instances of shaky perspective). She's ripped apart, limb from limb, for her transgression. The popular jock of the school has become the supreme ruler of the senior floor, which quickly has devolved into barbarism.

The plot has Dash, his previous friends, and Mary (voice of Lena Dunham), who has been outcast by her friends for some trivial thing, racing for the roof of the school, hoping that rescue efforts will proceed. It's an excuse for the broad, over-the-top commentary that's exemplified by those two popular kids, although there isn't much of it beyond those two examples (The other major target is another guy, looking as if he should have graduated a few years ago, who's trying to find drugs so that his last minutes can be spent high as a kite). The whole affair is accompanied by Dash's commentary, which has that tone of fake apathy that comes from people who care too much about the stuff about which they claim to care nothing.

Some of the adventure elements here are amusing (During a long swim, Shaw shows the air deflating from the kids' lungs on a backdrop that looks like one of those color-blindness tests, and the climax, involving a climb up an improbably placed school bus, is clever), although the movie's highlight is Lunch Lady Lorraine (voice of Susan Sarandon), a gruff and tough woman who has the single-minded goal of saving as many kids as she can. She cares, but My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea never convinces us that we should.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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