Arts movie review

If you ever need help procrastinating

PhD Comics’ second movie adaptation is almost too relatable


The PhD Movie 2:
Still in Grad School

Directed by Iram Bilal

Starring Raj Katti, Alexandra Lockwood

If you are a frequent reader of the comics section of The Tech, you’ll be familiar with Piled Higher and Deeper, the home of the chocolate-loving Cecilia, the consistently unproductive Mike Slackenerny, and our lovable, flawed, and forever lost-in-purpose Nameless Hero. These slice-of-life comics portray the unfortunate (for them) but hilarious (for us) day-to-day struggles of graduate students. A live-action film adapted from Jorge Cham’s PhD Comics, The PhD Movie 2 follows the paths of Winston, the Nameless Hero who is finally graced with a name, and Cecilia.

Winston is en route to his first research conference with the possibly fatal mission of presenting the culmination of four years of research to the grant-makers. The grant-grubbing, pretentious attitude of Winston’s rival research group is a caricature of an unfortunately true situation in science.

Cecilia is faced with writing and defending her thesis in a matter of months, since her professor spontaneously decided to go on sabbatical. In the wake of all her stress, she resorts to various stashes of chocolate for nearly every situation. Her wonderfully rendered collection ranges from “emergency chocolate” to “mom is calling chocolate.” Cecilia’s frantic fits of cleaning in an attempt to delay working on her thesis are all too familiar.

The struggles of the characters are extremely relatable for anyone who has been a student — even as undergraduates, we were still cringing and laughing during the showing because the things we were laughing at were the same things we encounter in life--all those little inner struggles that occur at 2 a.m. in the morning when your essay is due but all you really want to do is read more random articles about things unrelated to that essay and, wow, did you go through a whole bag of chips?

Although the film takes a slightly cynical look at the difficulties of being a PhD student and the world of research, as a whole it treats graduate student life positively. For Cecilia and Winston, their sacrifices and difficulties are worth doing what they love in research and serve to enrich the their experiences. In a slightly sappy inspirational sequence, the esteemed researchers in the film serve as advisors to Cecilia and Winston, telling them that research is ultimately about discovery and bettering the world.

The jokes woven into the narrative are largely successful, but a few fall flat and veer into the domain of awkwardness. The one-liners at the beginning of the movie are especially theatrical — the long pauses between lines and undue emphasis and diction detracted from the intended jokes. However, the puns did pan out further on. Statistical and scientific literacy help with some of the smaller jokes presented in the film, but a vast majority of the jokes are accessible to students outside of science as well.

The PhD Movie 2 is also stereotype-heavy, but we would argue that its use of stereotypes adds to the humor because it emphasizes the everyday ridiculousness of graduate student life. No PhD Movie would be complete without Prof. Smith’s non-answers and his all-consuming concern for funding as well as Prof. Chu’s (Prof. Jones in the comics) technological helplessness. The film builds on the stereotypes in order to fully flesh out the main characters — once their identities as scientists and researchers are laid out, the film proceeds to challenge the preconceived notions that accompany these professions.

Our major criticism was the out-of-place, surprise romantic twist. Although it was cute and happy, the buildup toward the romance was disjointed, weak, and very much seemed like a subplot of a subplot.

The PhD Movie 2 is full of over-the-top humor and celebrates the trials of graduate school life. To fully appreciate the film, we would recommend reading the comics before watching. The film market for academia is woefully scarce, but add it to your list if you want an hour of laughing at your own expense (if you want or are in the process of getting a PhD, that is). By the way, we are still all for getting a PhD, but don’t forget your emergency chocolate.