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‘My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea’ (review)

mv5bzgi3zta1owetmzewnc00n2qxltkzowqtyzc3zdc0mtm5ogzkxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynzqwmdiwmq-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_Produced by Kyle Martin, Craig Zobel
Written and Directed by Dash Shaw
Featuring John Cameron Mitchell, Reggie Watts,
Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Maya Rudolph,
Susan Sarandon, Alex Karpovsky

Chaos reigns in artist Dash Shaw’s feature film debut, the aptly titled My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea.

Though surrealism is pushed to good extent in this mixed-media animated movie, when the disaster strikes, you’re still in disbelief of the unraveling story.

Forever the coolest kid in cinematic high school, Jason Schwartzman voices protagonist Dash.

Of course, a semi-autobiographical account of may have and probably didn’t occur during their real high school years, Dash is a eccentric, smart, creative wannabe writer with a little too much flair for the fantastic.  His best friend Assaf (Reggie Watts) and their future book editor Verti (Maya Rudolph) round out the trio, and experience a falling out in the early moments of the film.

Dash, hungry for his next journalism career-breaker, stumbles upon a bombshell in the school records.

It seems the new gymnasium isn’t up to earthquake code.  So when the Earth begins to shake, fault lines shift and, you guessed it, his entire High School breaks from its oceanside location into the ocean below. There are fatalities from crashing waves, falling bookshelves and, yes, shark attacks.  Much of it is graphic, but from the pen of that kid you always caught doodling death in the corner of the cafeteria.

myentirehighschoolsinkingintothesea_02

One foot firmly in satire, the trio makes its way through to the Senior level floor above the sunken structure, with a plan to “graduate” to the roof.  Too cool for chaos classmen, name-calling bullies and despised school-staff are disposable.  Lena Dunham is Queen Bee mean-girl Mary. John Cameron Mitchell hysterically voices Prom King-turned-dictator Brent Daniels.  Susan Sarandon joins in as the philosophical mother figure “Lunch Lady” Lorraine.  Or is she supposed to be the Shelly Winters in this Poseidon Adventure with backpacks?

This is a fever dream, as comfortable dipping into psychedelia during darker moments as it is emulating vintage text-book illustration for flashback sequences.

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Combining basic animation techniques via modern means, the film has a charming crayon, colored pencil, magic marker, glue and construction paper quality that fits its schoolroom settings.  From the start, it’s visually striking and different than anything you’ve seen.  At the same time, there’s an underbelly of homage to the familiar.  With its matter-of-fact vocal direction, not to mention school setting, I was reminded of Peanuts specials or Daria episodes.  With its cycling loops of basic character animation and layered trickery, I was reminded of everything Hanna-Barbera.

Shaw has created here a beautiful punk love-hate letter to the institutions of High School and Animation.  Even the little imperfections of its design are charming.

 

MY ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL SINKING INTO THE SEA plays Monday, October 10th and Tuesday, October 11th at the 54th New York Film Festival.  Click here for tickets, showtimes and more information.

Warning: This film uses stroboscopic effects that can be dangerous for people with photosensitive epilepsy.

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