My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea has one of those idiosyncratic and quixotic titles that calls to colorful eccentricity. There’s going to be quirk, and a lot of it. Writer and director Dash Shaw’s animated feature is a sort of anti-children’s film: the movie is flushed with shocks of violence, millennial humor, and bleeding dyes that beget a sort of hypnotic fever dream.
Centered around a high school, built precariously on the edge of an eroding cliff, Shaw’s animated opus is a disaster movie that asks the age old question: “what if your secondary school plummeted into the ocean because of failed safety codes?” The madcap storyline revolves around a group of students who attempt to escape their capsized confines — think The Poseidon Adventure ala Daria. The escape party is led by a trio of friends — Dash (Jason Schwartzman), Assaf (Reggie Watts), and Verti (Maya Rudolph) — who climb, backstroke, and hurdle over a miasma of dangers.
Shaw’s animation warbles with vibrating lines and hemorrhages with watercolor paint. The animation is varied and mesmeric: imagine Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountainhead as combined with Nickelodeon’s Doug. If that visual cocktail makes you feel disoriented, then you have the right idea. Sometimes the animation can be deliberately crude — how many off-brand Home Depot felt pens did they use in some of these scenes? — and sometimes it can be daringly beautiful.
While the smudged slideshow of muddied pastels and broken paintbrushes is the marquee star of My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, the dialogue, packed with acerbic whimsy and emotional sincerity, cannot be overlooked. Though lines such as “I like turgid prose” and “student politics are a puppet show” have the deadpan nuance of a Peanuts special (it’s impossible not to imagine Lucy, head resting against open palm, saying these impassive sentences), the dialogue still lives in its own distinct world. When paired with Rani Sharone’s airy, melodic score, the barbed and bloodless exchanges could almost be lifted from a Gregg Araki film. Seriously.
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is a strange carousel of styles and genres that manage to fit strangely well together: Part Sega Genesis side-scroller, part-Hüsker Dü album cover, and part-’90s trapper keeper art, Dash Shaw’s unorthodox exploration of social classes and adventure narratives is inexplicably fun.