ON IN CINEMAS
EIFF 2017: My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea (2017)
This animated feature follows Dash (Jason Schwartzman) and Assaf (Reggie Watts), a pair of unpopular sophomore high school students who try to validate themselves by publishing a newsletter with the help of Verti (Maya Rudolph). Unfortunately, being as it is full of blatantly made up stories (such as the school locker room being haunted), it only serves for them to keep being ignored. Things aren’t helped when Dash resorts to muckraking against his best buddy in a desperate attempt to drum up interest.
However, one day when Dash is down in the basement he finds a piece of documentation stating that the school’s new auditorium being built by Principal Grimm (Thomas Jay Ryan) is a safety risk due to the building’s instability at withstanding California’s earthquakes. He tries to get attention by presenting the paper to his peers but ends up being thrown in detention, along with popular girl Mary (Lena Dunham) - who doesn’t exactly relish being locked up in a room with such as loser.
At that moment the fault line underneath the school gives way, resulting in the building (as the film’s title helpfully suggests) gradually sinking into the sea. Thus begins a desperate flight to safety for Dash and Mary, along with Assaf and Verti (who have started dating) and the plucky Lunch Lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon), as one floor after another gets submerged in the briny depths.
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Presented in a crudely-animated felt pen/watercolour aesthetic inspired by the archetypal school drawing style, and with such an offbeat premise, My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea is nothing if not singularly weird. However, it isn’t weird just for its own sake; there’s an underlying intelligence in its depictions of high school anxieties and pecking orders, as well as a barbed, sardonic wit that actively catches the viewer’s funny bone off-guard.
On a more superficial level, it’s also a spot-on spoof of disaster movies such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, as well as dystopian sci-fi adventures such as Escape from New York, and even a brief skit on the video game Double Dragon. This school’s an intimidating place fraught with danger - one of arrogant senior students, self-righteous nerds, bullying drug-obsessed bad boys and haughty queen bees, all simultaneously trying to beat others down while asserting their own standing in the popularity food chain. However, there is an overall optimistic vibe as the assembled group of central characters learn to accept each other’s fundamental difference, and work together for their own survival.
Despite the ostensibly unsophisticated drawing and animation style, there’s often an abstract and transcendent quality in the artwork that takes on a feel closer to 2001 than, for example, South Park. Even if the film’s spiritual dimension is comedically overblown it still provides a unique feel that makes it something rather more than a mere quirky diversion.
Runtime: 75 mins
Dir: Dash Shaw
Script: Dash Shaw
Voices: Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph, Susan Sarandon, Thomas Jay Ryan