"My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea" #TIFF16

Wildly bizarre and imaginatively alluring, if not occasionally slight, the animated movie, “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea,” is an engaging surrealist take on the disaster movie. It’s a film steeped in metaphorical analogies, especially in its depiction of surviving high school and escaping it unharmed.

Featuring the voices of Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Maya Rudolph and more, “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” is acclaimed graphic novelist Dash Shaw‘s feature-length directing debut and he renders the entire weirdo affair as if the viewer is reading a graphic novel and turning page after page. And what this film accomplishes is reaffirming what a true original artist Shaw really is.
In the opening moments of the film we are introduced to Shaw (Schwartzman) and Assaf (Reggie Watts), best friends, journalism enthusiasts and sophomores at Tides High. They are in charge of the high school newspaper along with their editor Verti, a funny Rudolph. She’s a girl who develops a crush on Assaf, much to Shaw’s chagrin and the “friends” end up betraying one another — the spurned boy casting aspersions on the other in jealousy.
But the true story takes hold once Shaw finds papers that suggest the newly built high school gymnasium does not pass the city’s earthquake safety codes. In a state of panic Shaw tries to warn everyone, but most don’t listen or shrug him off. Bad mistake. Given the film’s outrageous title you know what happens next. All hell breaks loose in this mix of disaster movie and high school comedy that deals with love, friendship and overcoming differences.
myentirehighschoolsinkingintothesea_02Shaw, the director, not the character, doesn’t hold back in the destruction. Jellyfish attacks, electrocutions, sharks ripping people to death — this isn’t a kiddie movie. His effort seeps through in every carefully constructed frame and the director employs crayon and pencil drawings mixed with paintings, comic book sketches and silhouettes among many tools to deliver something strangely beautiful and almost like something you’ve never seen before.
As colors pop out on the screen there is a lovely interlude that won’t be spoiled here, but it is well worth seeing the movie for just this sequence alone. Yet, as vibrant as ‘My Entire High School’ is at times, the novelty of the animated style does wear off eventually and the film’s loose, free-spirited, deliberate B-movie plot starts to drag and show its flaws. The good thing is the film is just 72 minutes long and doesn’t entirely overstay its welcome.
A shout-out must be made to Rani Sharone‘s manic soundtrack which plays an integral plot to the film’s loony mix of humor and seriousness. Its carnival-like sounds compliment the many crazy different styles that the director plays around with as well with his art.
As a side note, “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” begins with a title card that says “Warning: This film uses stroboscopic effects that can be dangerous for people with photosensitive epilepsy.” Some of the audience chuckled while others were left wondering if this was really a joke. You should believe Shaw was sincere in putting this title card before his picture started because the animation he uses does tend to have a dizzying-like effect on the viewer. So photosensitive epileptics you’ve been warned.
Although “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” itself is a weird, gorgeous movie to look at and has a painterly effect on the eyes there are limits to its craft. The limitations of the drawings stem from the fact that they prevent us from being entirely involved within the meager, a little-bit-thin story. On a scene by scene basis the visuals are terrific, but the overall effect of all these disparate animation techniques has the feel of a ubiquitous fog. ‘My Entire High School’ is a technically impressive feat, but emotionally, it’s hard to sink too deep into its animated waters. [C-]