I used to be a graduate student, albeit in the arts, and a lot of the webcomic Piled Higher and Deeper is painfully on the mark, not surprising since Jorge Cham used to be a grad student himself. Pointless research, hostile professors, idiot administrators, existential crises, degrading tasks, and the uncomfortable feeling, deep inside, that some enormous institution is in the process of chewing you up and that spitting you out is only a matter of time: the comic captures all of this and manages to do it without being depressing.
“Piled Higher and Deeper”, as a movie, is…interesting. The main problem is really the fact that most of the actors aren’t professionals, but actual grad students in the sciences. They’re all obviously huge fans of the comic, and do get the basic idea, but a lot of them struggle with their roles, making the movie is overly broad a lot of the time. They try to make up for it by making the movie heavily cartoony, but in the end there’s only so much they can do.
That said, the cast stand-out is K. Zachary Abbott as Professor Smith, the most hilariously cruel educator since Ms. Krabappel. Abbott nails the dismissiveness and callousness of a professor who just does not care. Similarly, Alexandra Lockwood is charming as Cecilia.
In the end, it’s ultimately very much a movie for a specific audience, but it’s great to see a webcomic make the jump to film, even if it is pretty rough.
Now, Hollywood, let’s stop screwing around. Adapt “Penny Arcade”, and let ‘em do it hard-R.
The trailer, for the curious, under the jump.