The plot of “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea,” the feature debut of indie comics artist and writer Dash Shaw, is pretty well encapsulated in the title. Set inside the four-story building that is the home of Tides High, the crudely animated yet cleverly written comedy focuses on five characters struggling to save themselves when a cliff gives way beneath that structure, which plunges intact into the ocean.
The hero, high school journalist Dash Shaw (voice of Jason Schwartzman), is one part of a small band of smart, smart-alecky and bizarrely resourceful people that includes his best friend, Assaf (Reggie Watts); their editor on the school paper, Verti (Maya Rudolph); a popular Mean Girl named Mary (Lena Dunham); and the self-explanatory Lunch Lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon, in a delightfully tough vocal performance).
Dash is the kind of hyperarticulate, self-aware yet clueless character that Schwartzman played in “Rushmore.” “I love turgid prose,” he says, before demonstrating that affinity, in response to a comment by one of his companions: “Mary’s words sunk into our hero, like urine staining a pair of tighty-whities,” Dash says, as if writing their adventures in his head. In a sense, as a stand-in for the director, he is. That wry sense of knowing detachment pervades “My Entire High School,” which is part disaster film and part satire — of high school’s dramas of popularity and relationship status and of the many movies that have been made about those things.
Although distributed by Gkids, this PG-13 film isn’t exactly for little children. Truly cool high-schoolers — meaning the freaks, geeks and misfits — will appreciate its sardonic nihilism, as will more grown-up audiences, happy to be looking back on their own memories of high school’s life-or-death matters, instead of living them.
“My Entire High School” has an unpretentiously trippy animation style, combining psychedelic backgrounds with the kind of characters you’d expect to find on the back of some art student’s spiral notebook. It’s crazy and ridiculous at times. But I can’t help agreeing with Assaf, who observes, of his companions’ rescue plans, “I like it. It has the logic of a dream.”
PG-13. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains coarse language, peril, cartoon violence, sexual humor and drug use. 77 minutes.