When I see a movie in theaters (or in this case, as an iTunes rental), I will write the five things you need to know about it.
5 Things You Need to Know About…
1) As a loyal fan of the sardonic, snappy-witted television series (although I connected much more with UPN’s season 1 and 2 than the newly merged CW’s season 3) of the same name, there was real excitement to see more of the Veronica Mars character. Commercially, and at times creatively, at the raw end of the network gene pool, Veronica’s cult status was always due in large part to her “location on the dial” circumstances. If she had been given a CBS procedural factory time slot to grow and prosper, show runner Rob Thomas’ (the other Rob Thomas, not the crooner from Matchbox Twenty) modern telling of “all that made Nancy Drew great” mixed with pop-cultured referential writing would have reached its mainstream stride. Unfortunately, at the time, a hit on the UPN was a relative term, and the CW had yet to find its YA/tween calling when it made its fall of 2006 network debut. Failed attempts to rebrand Veronica Mars as an FBI agent (cleverly referenced in the movie) on another network never elevated from failed pilot purgatory, but Thomas and star (with a capital “S”) Kristen Bell persistently kept the dream alive. Fast forward to March of 2013 and the launch of a Veronica Mars Movie Kickstarter campaign that hoped to raise two million dollars toward a movie and enough momentum and consumer demand to justify a studio to fill in the other financial gaps. When the Kickstarter fundraising period closed a month later in April of last year, over 91,000 people had donated and over $5.7 million had been raised. The Veronica Mars movie was a thing, there was buzzy publicity for this unorthodox fundraising pioneer, and palpable anticipation for Veronica’s return to the screen (albeit in a wider form). Ironically, I watched Veronica Mars on my television yesterday as an iTunes rental (released on both iTunes and in theaters on Friday) and was pleased to have not paid the increased cinema price on this disappointing film. As a tribute to fans of the Veronica Mars television series, the movie valiantly attempts to hit every single self-referential point (most of which I had forgotten the details to), but lost in the page-turning of the Neptune High School yearbook is the well-executed central mystery that made the show so entertaining. It may be fun to see the gang back together again, but without any passion for the story, why take the case in the first place?
2) Veronica Mars should never have been a movie. With an emphasis on nostalgic re-living (even down to Veronica’s increasingly grating decision making throughout the movie) rather than story-telling, Veronica Mars feels simultaneously too long (there were way to many clock glances) and too short (after so many years, that was it?). What if Veronica had been redesigned as a Sherlock-lite, a limited series told over the course of three, ninety minute installments that give enough fan appreciation catering to satisfy the diehards and enough plot “raison d’être” to justify a new story. Instead, the movie does neither well and feels like it is both not good enough to be a movie and not good enough to have been part of the television series. Ouch.
3) Despite its failings and despite her increasingly troublesome actions and inactions (it all seemed more fun when she was in high school – as an aspiring high-powered lawyer, the casual “law breaking” and “heart breaking” is too much to take), Veronica Mars and Kristen Bell’s performance thereof remain compelling to watch. Still owning her youthful looks, she pulls off late twenties in the movie (Bell is in her mid-thirties) as successfully as she pulled off late teens (when she was in her mid twenties) on the show. Bell’s fiery spirit and sharp delivery have always given Veronica her edge and her honest, humanity has always given Veronica her heart. It is a pleasure to see both again, older and unencumbered by network FCC standards and practices (PG-13 language is in full force), even if her motivations lose credibility throughout.
4) Veronica is not the only one returning home. If all you want out of the Veronica Mars movie is a Neptune reunion, then you will love Veronica Mars. It seems like everyone is back and this potentially dangerous convention could have been a massive failure, but Rob Thomas and friends manage to recreate some of the world and character dynamics that make the show such a joy. I particularly appreciate Dick Casablancas (played by Ryan Hansen), ever true to his douchebaggery, Wallace Fennel (Percy Daggs III) teaching and coaching (perfect!) at Neptune High, and Keith Mars (the always appreciated Enrico Colantoni), still trying to figure out what he did wrong with Veronica while providing the firm, yet tender conscience of the Veronica Mars world. One notable exception to this reunion bliss comes from Jason Dohring’s performance as Logan Echolls. Either Dohring doesn’t play Echolls as well as he used to or my quality acting discernment back in the day left something to be desired. Logan, and the actor playing him, seems a little dazed and confused throughout.
5) Veronica Mars is a “made-for-movies” movie that feels more like a “made-for-TV” movie (in quality and execution) that should have been made for television in the first place. If you watched the show, rent it at home. If you didn’t watch the show, watch the television series instead. Veronica Mars is a character worth taking on, just not in this form, and certainly not as a paying patron of a cinema.