The title My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is its own spoiler, so don’t blame me.
In making his animated feature debut, Dash Shaw adapts his own graphic novel about a group of high school sophomores scrambling to survive two catastrophes – their high school literally submerging, and just plain high school.
It’s hard to say which is more difficult. On the day an earthquake sends his seaside school into the ocean, Dash (Jason Schwartzman) is already having a tough one. His best friend, Assaf (Reggie Watts), is about to commence a romance with Verti (Maya Rudolph), who happens to be his only other friend.
His selfish jealousy makes things difficult for all of them, not to mention the viewer. Dash isn’t selfish/funny, the way Schwartzman’s character was in the Wes Anderson high school classic Rushmore. Just selfish.
Things improve a bit when the school slides into the storm-tossed ocean and director Shaw is able to tack his quips and gags on to the frame of a disaster movie. In fact, the movie borrows basic story points from The Poseidon Adventure – as the school floods from the bottom up (freshman and sophomores first), Dash, his pals, and a motley band of survivors make for the upper floors, then the roof, hoping for a rescue.
This casts high school as a surreal, ghoulish, and often snarky game of attrition – here, survival of the flippest. The movie isn’t Pixar, and the animation is at times intentionally crude, but there are interesting touches as well – grasping, inky tendrils of color, psychedelic patterns, some other clever visual ideas.
I detected a few nods to Charles M. Schulz and the Peanuts gang – the way the eyes are animated, the way the characters dance over the closing credits. Maybe Shaw is aiming to update Schulz for a modern, hipper, slightly older crowd (can you be too old for Peanuts?).
But his movie is mostly attitude, and stretched to feature length (even an efficient 75 minutes) begins to feel thin. Dash self-narrates his adventure, and there is comic irony in the way he describes himself as the hero, though we notice it’s the other characters doing the decisive work.
That’s a funny idea -- for a short-form cartoon.
The occasional pleasures of My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea are to be found on the periphery – Susan Sarandon is the voice of Lorraine the Lunch Lady, who becomes more interesting as the movie evolves, reversing the dramatic arc of Dash himself.