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My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea (2016)

It's the first day of the new school year for the students of Tides High School. Dash Shaw (Jason Schwartzman), the over-eager writer of the school's newspaper, is excited about starting his sophomore year with a clean slate. Together with his longtime best friend/cowriter Assaf (Reggie Watts), and their soft-spoken editor Verti (Maya Rudolph), Dash places his bets that this will be a year to remember. But when it is discovered that their cliff side school is not built up to code, there is little that can be done when an earthquake sends the school plummeting into the sea below. With the entire student body thrown into chaos, Dash will have to rely on his sharp wit, mediocre physical prowess, and the bad-ass Lunch Lady Loraine (Susan Sarandon) to survive the many horrors of this inexplicable disaster. All of which include, shark infested waters, crazy jock cults, electrical pits of doom and (the most horrific) the growing romantic tension between Assaf and Verti. Will our intrepid hero live to write another day or will he be lost to the obscurity of the third wheel?

Or explode, or get eaten by a shark? Whichever sounds more exciting.

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea is an independent, animated comedy film written and directed by acclaimed graphic novelist Dash Shaw. The film being Shaw's directorial debut in the world of feature animation. The film began traveling the festival circuit in 2016, appearing in both the Toronto International Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, and many others. Garnering a good deal of critical praise. In early December of 2016, the film was picked up by GKIDS and currently going through a limited theater run for the rest of April 2017.

The first thing that struck me about My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea was, unsurprisingly, the title. Though long, the title communicates to its audience with no bullshit exactly what they're in for. A disaster film that isn't afraid to poke fun at itself or its own genre.

What makes the film brilliant, however, is how it gets its humor across. A good deal of it does come from Shaw's witty dialogue, but it's balanced out with a great deal of visual humor. From a combination of strange camera shots, to the visual style evolving as the scene demands it, to subtle nods to other media that are certain to get a belly laugh or two. My personal favorite example of this is a fight scene, animated exactly like a classic side-scrolling fighting video game (a la Final Fight or Double Dragon). The visual effects, while a little on the surreal side are definitely impressive. Adding to the tension of how this insane scenario will get even crazier.

And yet, in spite of it all the out there visuals and the hilarious Poseidon-esque scenario (just with a high school instead of a cruise ship), there is still enough character and genuine moments (both heartwarming and frightening) that balance out the movie. Giving it just as much heart as it does humor. Each member of the main cast looks and feels genuine. Like they could have been people you may have seen walking across the hall in your own high school. Just trying to get by. A large part of this is due to the film's talented voice cast. Jason Schwartzman's delivery of Shaw's not-so-inner monologues are delivered perfectly and Susan Sarandon hits it out of the park portraying Lorraine's tough love temperament.

It is thanks to the characters that the narrative is kept, for the lack of a better term, grounded. Allowing you to laugh at the film's many jokes but suspend disbelief long enough to let you root for the film's intrepid adventurers to succeed.

One line in the film, spoken by my personal favorite character, Lunch Lady Lorraine, summed up my feelings on the film perfectly. 

"It was corny as hell, but I liked it."

The animation and visual spectacle that My High School Sinking into the Sea offers clearly sets itself apart from the crowd. Yet at the same time, I don't believe the film is trying to be more than it is. It isn't trying to be a commentary on teenage social hierarchy, or a warning to always make sure seaside buildings on a fault line are always up to code. It is just an animated film that is content on taking its audience on a strange but hilarious journey.

Even if you are unsure if you will like the simple yet dynamic visual style or if the dark humor will tickle your fancy, I urge you, give it a chance. If you're anything like me, you'll be glad you did.

FORMATSTheatrical (list of screenings here)
DVD (Release Date yet to be announced)
77 minutes