Entertainment

'My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea's' creative animation can't mask its weak story

Posted May 26

“MY ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL SINKING INTO THE SEA” — 2 stars — Voices of Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph, Susan Sarandon; PG-13 (some images of peril, sexual references and drug material); Tower

At 75 minutes long, “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” barely feels longer than its very literal title. But while this little animated production does feature some creative highlights, its content makes it a tough endorsement at full ticket price.

Director/writer/animator Dash Shaw’s film follows a handful of high school students after an earthquake leaves their school adrift on, and gradually sinking into, the Pacific Ocean. They have a leader of sorts, since these kinds of movies usually require one, but he’s more the protagonist by default not popularity.

Dash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) is a bit of a deluded outcast, with the kind of attitude that makes his social isolation a self-fulfilling prophecy. He regularly uses his position on the school newspaper to indulge his self-absorbed crusades, and he gets in trouble after writing — and distributing — a spiteful takedown of his best friend Assaf (Reggie Watts) and the paper’s editor Verti (Maya Rudolph).

Dash digs his hole a little deeper when he sneaks into the school’s archives and discovers that Tides High’s new top-floor auditorium isn’t up to earthquake code (apparently the approval signatures were forged). But before he can warn everyone else, he winds up locked in detention with the school’s uber-popular aspiring politician Mary (Lena Dunham).

Then an earthquake drops the school into the ocean.

Shaw’s animation and narrative style helps “My Entire High School” toggle back and forth between the real world and a world that feels much more metaphorical, and viewers may assume that what they are seeing isn’t supposed to be taken literally so much as figuratively.

Once the school floats out into the sea, Dash and the aforementioned group of “Breakfast Club”-style classmates work their way into the upper levels of the building toward a hopeful rescue, assisted by a brawny woman from the cafeteria called Lunch Lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon). Each successive floor of the building is labeled for the next ranking class (juniors, seniors, etc.), so the whole movie feels like a loose journey through life … or at least adolescence.

There’s also a lot of knowing dialogue between characters that acknowledges, attacks and sometimes just pokes at different stereotypes, though “My Entire High School” never quite feels like it knows what it wants to say about any particular subject. In some ways, Shaw’s film feels more like it’s laughing at message films than sending a message of its own.

The story is muddled enough that viewers will likely draw their entertainment from Shaw’s quirky, low-budget animation style, which combines mediums and plays with simple two-dimensional imagery, resulting in a visual that feels like an impressionistic cartoon.

It’s interesting to hear Schwartzman voicing a character that isn’t too far removed from Max Fischer, the over and underachieving private school protagonist of Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore.” Sarandon’s turn as Lunch Lady Lorraine also stands out.

But in spite of these interesting elements, a weak story and muddled message keeps “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” from rising above the level of curiosity.

“My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” is rated PG-13 for some images of peril, sexual references and drug material; running time: 75 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who also teaches English composition for Weber State University. You can also find him on <a href='https://www.youtube.com/moviereviewsbyjosh' target='_blank'>YouTube</a>.

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