Movie Review: “The PhD Movie”

Written by Brent Holmes September 28, 2011

The PhD Movie, based off of the online comic strip “Piled Deeper and Higher” by Jorge Cham is a strange film to review. The film is showing at select Universities; Western being one of the few in Canada where it was screened. While it is quite deliberately targeted to Grad students, I having bought tickets and sneaking into the film purely to see what it was found myself rather awkwardly singled out in one scene at which a joke is made of an undergraduate who slipped into a grad student event.

Being based off a comic strip, the film as a uniquely effective sense of humour. Most scenes play like an internet comic and for the most part, this works. It’s hilarious. If a single joke flew over my ignorant undergraduate mind, the next one would be successful.

If that were all this film is, it would be easy to say it is a 8/10 film. However, the problem with this style is that the internet comic form does not adapt well to transitioning between the anarchic plot of a comic series and the serious plot of a film. Like such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The PhD Movie’s fault is trying to build a structural Hollywood narrative.

The other problem with trying to balance the tones is the number of gags that get lost in the process. The film starts with the drawn-on comic book style graphic a la Scott Pilgrim vs the World, but by the half-way point those comedic touches have completely disappeared.

These are replaced by half-baked subplots in which two of the characters who have thus far only been featured as secondary characters are treated as though these subplots were actually part of the first half of the movie. If one reads the comics, these characters actually do make appearances but in the movie their scenes amount to about 2-5 minutes of an awkward who-are-you-and-what-are-you-doing-here moment. However, these subplots are only half as an annoying as the frequently off center camera.

The characters themselves are essentially all student stereotypes. There’s the ‘new’ guy who goes nameless for most of the movie (Raj Katti), the overly enthusiastic TA (Alexandra Lockwood), the one who is into social causes (Crystal Dilworth), and the one who doesn’t really give a crap (Evans Boney). Whether or not the actors do a good job of their roles or not depends entirely on how many of these characters an audience member can project onto somebody they know.

It’s not for the lack of comedy or the subject matter that The PhD Movie deserves only a 6.5/10. The cynical comic-strip-like approach of the film during its first half is not well balanced by the O-Week positive outlooks of its second half. Inconsistent tone and a cheesy third act dramatically pull away from what could otherwise be a pretty decent movie about the lives of Grad students. Like so much other material turned into film, the original comic-strip is better.

My Rating: 6.5/10


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About Brent Holmes

Brent Holmes is a Film Studies and English Major attending Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario where he is working towards a PhD in Film Studies. He currently writes for We Eat Films and The Western Gazette (on the latter, he serves as Arts & Life editor).

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