Daria and Scooby-Doo meet The Poseidon Adventure and Titanic in graphic novelist Dash Shaw’s first full-length feature animation, the awkwardly titled, awkwardly plotted, yet awkwardly entertaining My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea. In the somewhat semiautobiographical tale, Dash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) runs the school newsletter with his best friend, Assaf (Reggie Watts); the two consider themselves investigative journalists, even if no one reads their stories. Dash is further frustrated when Assaf shows an interest in Verti (Maya Rudolph), who has different ideas for the newsletter. After publicly embarrassing Assaf, a stunt that disappoints the relatively cool Principal Grimm (Thomas Jay Ryan), Dash discovers that the high school’s new roof, which is under construction, is not up to code. Just as he starts telling everyone that, the school begins breaking apart and falling into the ocean. Dash soon finds himself with Assaf, lunch lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon), and his archenemy, Mary (Lena Dunham), as they try to stay above water and survive the maelstrom that is swirling all around them. In order to make it, they’ll have to go from the freshman floor, the lowest one, up through the sophomore, junior, and senior floors to potential safety, a clever way of having them grow up fast. But their journey is a gory one as they encounter plenty of dead students and teachers along with lots of body parts.
Shaw (Cosplayers, Bottomless Belly Buttons) wrote and directed the film, with his partner, Jane Samborski, serving as lead animator, creating much of the DIY-style art in his Brooklyn kitchen; the two previously collaborated on the online series The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D., based on Shaw’s 2009 graphic novel. The cartoon style is all over the place, from sketchy and purposely amateurish to hallucinogenic and surreal, incorporating images of real fire and water; at times it looks like the film is being projected by the iconic 1960s psychedelic Joshua Light Show. (In fact, one of the other animators was Curtis Godino, who has worked with JLS and founder Joshua White; Frank Santoro also contributed to the film.) A cool elevator sequence pays homage to early German animator Lotte Reiniger. The narrative contains ginormous plot holes; try to suspend disbelief and just let the tongue-in-cheek madness play out onscreen. Shaw and Samborski do a good job of capturing the general angst and ennui of high school life, although it does become repetitive during the too-long seventy-seven-minute running time. And a direct reference to Shaw’s publisher is completely gratuitous. The film also features the voices of Alex Karpovsky as slacker Drake, John Cameron Mitchell as jock Brent Daniels, and Louisa Krause as popular girl Gretchen, with music by Rani Sharone of the band Stolen Babes and the haunting solo project Thrillsville. A selection of the New York Film Festival, My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea opens April 14 at Metrograph, with Q&As with Shaw, Samborski, and producer Kyle Martin at the 7:00 shows April 14-16. (The April 14 Q&A will be moderated by Mitchell.)