High school dramas are back with a vengeance. There’s the noir soap opera shenanigans of Archie, Betty and Veronica on Riverdale, and the sharply observed teen pathos of Thirteen Reasons Why. Both series paint a portrait of high school about fifty shades darker than the quaint distractions of a John Hughes movie. Out on the big screen in limited release this weekend is My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, joining the class of 2017 with a surrealistic romp fusing teen comedy and disaster movies to hilarious effect.
The debut feature from graphic novelist Dash Shaw, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea buzzes with a rough but fluid animation style. Entirely animated by Shaw himself, the movie pops with quirky characters and psychedelic sequences. The style screams hipster chic, much jumpier and more cartoony than say the hallucinogenic pseudo-realism of A Scanner Darkly, but it works over the movie’s frenetic short runtime. A first-rate cast gives memorable voice to a zany plot, including Jason Schwartzman, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph, Lena Dunham and Susan Sarandon.
Setting off for a far from typical high school day are Schwartzman’s Dash (yes, the lead takes the director’s name for a quirky meta nod) and his buddy Assaf (Watts). Starting out their sophomore year, Dash is confident they’ve moved high enough up in the school’s social hierarchy that they can sit further back on the bus. Together they author the school newspaper, edited by their friend Verti (Rudolph). Verti upends the twosome’s joint byline and their friendship when she starts offering Assaf solo articles. Ever pompous, Dash storms off the paper, starting his own competing gazette and publishing false articles about Assaf’s erectile dysfunction. The budding romance between Assaf and Verti only angers Dash more. Digging through the school archives for a bonafide scoop, he discovers that the latest renovations to the building aren’t up to code. Their school, Tides High, sits on a fault line by the ocean. The addition of a new floor for a gymnasium on the roof has put too much stress on the building. Of course, nobody believes Dash, but when an earthquake strikes, the whole damn building tumbles off the cliff and into the sea.
What follows is a ludicrous disaster fantasy, part The Poseidon Adventure and part Lord of the Flies, as Dash and his pals attempt to escape up through the floors of the high school while it slowly slips into the ocean’s depths. As the bodycount mounts and students die in grisly hilarious ways, Dash has to set aside his petty jealousy and work with his friends. It’s an entertaining ride, and a caustic look at how self-absorbed the cliques of high school can be. Punctuated with a superb eighties influenced instrumental score from Rani Sharone, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea has an irresistible charm that sweeps over you. Dash’s dickishness and penchant for constant embellishment create most of the humour and tension, but in the end you need a fabulist to make a good story. Both Dash Shaws, in and out of the movie, know it’s worth the plunge.
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea opens today at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, and in limited release across North America.