Film Review: My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea

High school is deadly in the inventive, endearingly scattershot 'My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea.'
Specialty Releases

For those who grew up in the golden age of MTV Animation comes writer-director Dash Shaw’s My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea, in which the normal problems faced by teenagers are compounded by…well…their high school sinking into the sea. Scrappy and surreal, this GKids release should appeal to both eccentric teenagers and onetime eccentric teenagers with fond memories of “Daria” and “Clone High.”

Those two shows both used comedy and the point of view of misfit outsiders to lay bare the ridiculousness of adolescence—the cliques, the romantic fumblings, the way teenagers can be unmitigated assholes. Here, our entry into the world of Tides High School comes via sophomore Dash (Jason Schwartzman), who in the way of countless high-schoolers before him uses pretentiousness and bravado to paper over a lack of self-esteem. Matters aren’t helped, then, when his only friend Assaf (Reggie Watts) strikes up a relationship with Verity (Maya Rudolph), the editor of the little-read school paper Dash and Assaf write.

Shaw deftly blends pedestrian high-school problems with an action-adventure plotline that sees an earthquake rend the school from its cliff-top location, the result of Principal Grimm (Thomas Jay Ryan) fudging some construction regulations and rendering the school unstable. It’s an apt metaphor that mirrors the kill-or-be-killed existence of high school itself: An adult screws up, leaving students to fend for themselves in the midst of absolute chaos, fighting their way up to the top-level senior floor, “and then graduate, through the roof!” The everyday high-school experience is heightened: Not only does the picture-perfect football jock (John Cameron Mitchell) metaphorically rule the school, but once things go all Lord of the Flies he can actively order people to be killed.

With its 85-minute running time, My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea never wears out its welcome, resisting the urge to pad out its story with meaningless asides. It’s short and sharp, subversive yet sweet, a jumble of comedy and terrible events (one character is literally eaten by a shark) that’s true to the messy high-school experience. A boppy synth score from Rani Sharone and a rough-around-the-edges, brightly colored aesthetic give the film a unique, vibrant feel.

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