MY ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL SINKING INTO THE SEA, animated teen comedy, PG-13, Center for Contemporary Arts,
Dash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), a high-school sophomore who recently got over an acne problem, is an aspiring writer who gravitates toward high drama and purple prose. As reporters for their school newspaper, he and his best friend, Assaf (Reggie Watts), are known to write horror stories about haunted lockers for lack of more exciting fare on slow news days — and they always write as a team. When their editor, Verti (Maya Rudolph), assigns Assaf a serious story of his own, the jealousy-prone Dash exacts revenge and winds up in detention, where he stumbles across paperwork indicating that their high school — located on a California cliffside — was built on a fault line. The building and everyone in it is in imminent danger of sinking into the sea when the next earthquake hits. Because Dash has a wild imagination and anger issues, no one listens to him when he tries to alert students and teachers to the impending calamity, which takes place soon enough. As the water level rises, Dash, Assaf, Verti, popular-girl Mary (Lena Dunham), and Lunch Lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon) must fight their way to dry land on the fourth floor.
As one of the characters points out, the story has the logic of a dream. My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is written and directed by comic-book author and artist Dash Shaw, who uses a wide range of visual styles in the telling of this entertaining and even admirably deep teen disaster comedy — including black-outlined Lynda Barry-esque people, impressionistic backgrounds dripping in lush color, Squigglevision, and kaleidoscope effects. The tone seems inspired, at least in part, by the 1990s MTV animated show known for its droll approach to highschool social hierarchy and power-wielding teachers. But where Daria was fueled by Generation X cynicism and apathy, characters are very much connected to the world outside of themselves in sometimes-unexpected ways. They are concerned about the environment as well as the country’s crumbling public infrastructure, the distinctions between different kinds of writing, and what it means to be a certain kind of person. What makes someone kind, or responsible, or complicit?
As the kids and Lunch Lady Lorraine become increasingly imperiled, they must see past their preconceived notions about one another in order to trust each other. This means that, among other discoveries, Verti understands Mary as something more than a popular gymnast, Dash recognizes that he can be a self-centered hothead, and all of them get to know the lunch lady as a complex person with an adventuresome past. None of this is heavy-handed or moralistic, but rather genuinely sweet, coming as it does against a humorous backdrop of cartoon teenagers drowning and dying. — Jennifer Levin