Review: My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea Is an Eccentric and Vivid Coming-Of-Age Tale
4 out of 5 stars
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is the first animated feature from comic artist Dash Shaw (Cosplayers, Bottomless Belly Button) and there’s not really a better word to describe it than original.
In this teen movie crossed with a disaster movie, Shaw draws from a million different inspirations like Charles Schulz, some Lotte Reiniger, some old-school zines, and a million other references that I’m sure I missed. These allusions are incorporated in big, significant ways and in small, one-off scenes. It’s not too often that you watch a movie and ask, “Was that a passing allusion to Renaissance illustrations of Hell?” My Entire High School doesn’t just play with these boundaries, it embraces the chaotic, absurd, and mundane all at once.
The tale begins with a classic back-to-school optimism familiar to the genre, as Dash (Jason Schwartzman) and his friend Assaf (Reggie Watts) talk about how sophomore year will be great and different for the two pals. They work at the school newspaper along with Verti (Maya Rudolph), who’s getting closer to Assaf in way that makes Dash unhappy. While this tension between the three doesn’t go away, it’s quickly interrupted by the school—you guessed it—sinking into the sea after an earthquake. Our fun drama quickly turns into a journey to survive, as the surroundings turn simultaneously horrifying and comically apocalyptic.
Everyday conflicts about losing your best friend to his new girlfriend exist alongside trying not to drown. Images of a littered corpses stacking up sit alongside teen drama about whether or not to follow the flow of the cool crowd. Shaw’s mixed-media style with watercolors, ink, and paper that feel like they’re ready to explode off the screen.
In one interview he refers to the style as “primitive.” This style, despite being very intentional and planned, feels very natural and unrefined in a way that’s rare. It’s almost as if the story is coming alive right in front of you, like a stream-of-consciousness that happens when you’re doodling in your high school science class. That’s not to say it isn’t refined. There were many moments I just looked at the screen in awe, as the backgrounds burst with surreal beauty, and in terms of storytelling, it’s a source of both humor and appropriate exaggeration.
Considering Shaw worked on the Richmond Times-Dispatch when he was high school and worked on zines, it’s also easy to see a lot of self-awareness and self-deprecation in the protagonist he names after himself. Character Dash is a pretentious teenager who comfortably uses phrases like “turgid prose” and “the establishment,” and meant to be unlikable in that young wannabe kind of way. The dynamic between him and cool-girl gymnast Mary (Lena Dunham) and raspy Lunch Lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon) is particularly great.
At the same time, Shaw’s characters are funny in a way that’s also awkwardly teenage, which really comes in the dialogue. Characters each represent different high school “types,” oscillating between exaggerated caricatures and fully-formed individuals. That dynamic is one I typically don’t like, but My Entire High School pulls it off because of it’s commitment to absurdity. Verti and Assaf will have very level-headed and normal conversations about his protective mom and John Cameron Mitchell voices a football star who literally rules the senior floor.
As our heroes climb, or “graduate—to the roof,” the journey to survive and make it out of school feels both outrageous and somewhat allegorical. Doesn’t high school feel like an actual disaster movie sometime, with the stakes way higher than they actually are? My Entire High School is great dark drama because it allows its characters to mature in the face of this disaster, but never in a way that feels like a cliched, feel-good teen drama thanks to the sheer ridiculousness going on.
With so much going on, this is a coming-of-age that doesn’t really slow down. The movie opens with an epileptic seizure warning, which viewers should adhere to. My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is out in theaters now, definitely give it a watch!
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