I feel that John Hughes would approve. From noted graphic novelist Dash Shaw (“New School,” “Cosplayers”) comes an animation experience that combines a high school comedy with a disaster movie and a tinge of the surreal. With it’s Chicago debut at the CineYouth Film Festival now behind it, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is the story of a character named Dash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), a sophomore at Tides High School, working hard for what passes for the school newspaper, along with his best friend Assaf (Reggie Watts) and their editor Verti (Maya Rudolph). Assaf is the better writer, and Dash is prone to fits of muckraking and revenge writing when someone tramples his fragile emotions, which makes for some awkward moments between the three when Verti begins assigning Assaf for serious pieces to write.
But all personal issues must be put aside (or so you’d think) when an earthquake hits, and the school (built on a fault line) falls into the ocean, leaving the three resourceful students to make their way through the school’s various cliques and social strata to get to the roof in the hopes of being rescued. The fact that Dash uncovered the administration’s cover-up of the impending disaster just before the earthquake and no one listened to him, gives him a slight sense of superiority, but it isn’t until the group combines forces with the snobby popular girl Mary (Lena Dunham) and the surprisingly resourceful and strong Lunch Lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon) that the group has a fighting chance of getting out of this alive.
Shaw’s sense of humor is a perfect blend of sly, cynical and silly, and the film’s observations about existing and surviving high school are right on the money. The way the student body and school staff almost immediately begin to turn on each other and form various tribes within each floor of the school is inspired and hilarious, as the filmmaker borrows visual styles cues from everything from video games to Mad Max. The retro keyboard score from Rani Sharone serves to underscore the film’s ’80s influence in a delightful way. But in a strange way, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea made me long for what I now realize were easier times, when all you had to worry about and suffer for were young love, bullies, and the apocalypse.
The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre. On Friday, May 5, writer-director Dash Shaw will appear for a Q&A following in the 7pm screening, and will introduce the 9:30pm screening.