By: Bill Arceneaux (A Toast) –
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is a work most personal and honest, but not necessarily literal and true. It’s a kaleidoscopically surreal cartoon of teenage relationships and high stakes danger and action. It’s also a journey of reaffirmation and maturity, where kids fight for survival and growth in the same breath. Above all else, it’s a film where imagination and memory crash into each other, to create a new history for its maker.
Though, that last sentence is more a suspicious feeling than absolute fact.
“And I’m probably the greatest detective in the world!”
Finally, we get a movie about a FICTIONAL school disaster. Think Battle Royale, but without the gore, without the bullets, and without the societal and political themes. What you’re left with is a story about young adults fighting one another while trying to maintain their high school interpersonal status quos. Cliques, friendships, and flirtations will either be strengthened or broken apart. In My Entire High School, we see a similar if more slightly more lighthearted tragedy (oxymoronic) at play.
A high school has been built on a fault line near a cliff at the side of the ocean. Each floor of the building represents a grade, with freshmen at the bottom and seniors at the top. When an earthquake strikes, casting the school into the sea, sinking awfully quickly, a small group of survivors make their way up in an attempt at rescue. Led by Dash, Assaf, and Lunch Lady Lorraine (the heroine of the movie), we go through colorful sequences of panic and despair, and of incredible frights and heroic heights, all as the water rises and the building falls.
This scenario alone perfectly symbolizes the climb of personal development into adulthood that high school, in theory, is supposed to prepare you for. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way for everyone, and is usually pretty miserable. This known misery works in My Entire High School’s favor, highlighting the pitfalls, both figurative and real, that the characters faced daily and confront now. Social castes are exposed as more faulty than the ground the building was built on, with some students seen as being expendable over others. Popular vs meek, basically.
There is an Adult Swim-ish attitude to this film, that fills even comical moments with dramatic subtext. By no means is this a “friendly” watch, as hundreds of deaths occur, sometimes most violently. It’s ruthless and captivating in how, for example, a senior football player is seen as a God, but ultimately is a lazy and power mad maniac, or how truly remorseful people here will get regarding past and current transgressions, especially under these circumstances. While dialogue at times feels Wes Anderson-like and Mumblecore-y, the heavy emotions felt for sure mask any whimsy seen. This is the best disaster movie I’ve seen in many years.
Director Dash Shaw, I got the impression, was drawing much from his own experiences, and exploring through creative means how things meant to him, in spite of how they actually played out. This doesn’t make the film less honest, as his memories are his own, and he can contort them however he likes. This is the Be Kind Rewind factor, which is to say that he “sweded” his own high school life. Take liberties with your biography, I say. Everything is permitted!
Go big or go home. My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea goes large, packing into its under 90 minutes enough cinematic, animated, and wonderfully dramatic power to make it an easy 2017 favorite. Leave behind the middle schoolers – this may traumatize.
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: if the animation style almost made you sea sick.
Take a Drink: every time Dash suggests lofty and wordy writing.
Do a Shot: for Lunch Lady Lorraine, who goes above the call of duty.