Monday, March 24, 2014
Review: Veronica Mars
The Veronica Mars movie is a pretty good episode of the Veronica Mars TV show. I'm not sure if it's a very good movie.
I watched Veronica Mars when it aired on UPN/CW from 2004 to 2007 (we used to be friends). I liked it a lot: smart writing, interesting & complex characters, a winning cast, mysteries just compelling enough to keep me invested. But then the show went away for seven years and I haven't revisited it. Like the title character in this new feature film adaptation, I moved on.
Since its cancellation, there has been the constant specter of a feature film that would continue the story and find out what became of Veronica -- last seen casting an unsuccessful vote for her father in an election she had ensured he would lose -- all the citizens of Neptune, CA, both good and bad. Fans (apparently now known as "marshmellows," because everything has to be a thing) clamored for it, but the studio passed and things stalled out. When news broke that series creator and the movie's co-writer/director Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell had taken to Kickstarter to crowd source the project, I was hopeful. I liked the show, and I would gladly spend two more hours with some characters I missed. When the movie was funded in a matter of hours (its $2 million goal met; it would eventually raise about $4.5 million), my hope graduated to excitement. The people had spoken. The system worked -- fans proved they would be willing to spend money to see a Veronica Mars movie and would be rewarded with a Veronica Mars movie.
Any time a TV show makes the leap to features (and it hasn't happened that often, probably because so few attempts have been good), it requires that the property be recontextualized -- not just for non-fans who might see the film with no prior knowledge of the show, but to justify the leap from the small screen to the big one. Television and film are very different mediums ( --Patrick Bromley, F This Movie!). What is good is not necessarily good for the other, not even in this age of highly cinematic TV and movies that are so sequalized and spun off that they resemble "episodes" more than films.
Unfortunately, Thomas hasn't come up with a real reason to revisit these characters other than "time has passed."Veronica Mars doesn't really care about pleasing anyone who didn't watch the show -- a sin I'm willing to forgive, since those aren't the people who pledged the funds upfront to get it made -- but the fan service aspect has left the film somewhat complacent. It's not that the movie makes it hard to follow for anyone who didn't watch the show; there's a recap of the series (mostly the first season) up front. It's that the movie makes it hard to care.
What holds the film together is the titular detective. It's easy to understand why Kristen Bell would lobby so hard to get a Veronica Mars movie made. It's a great role for her, and she's great in it. Veronica can be very difficult, and Bell doesn't try to apologize the character's flaws or make them adorable (that's just a side effect of who's in the role). Her self-righteousness would be insufferable if Bell wasn't so good at winning us over with the quickness and sarcasm of Thomas' dialogue. Bell is good in everything she does; I just wish she would make fewer When in Romes and The Lifeguards and You Agains and Stuck in Loves and Couples Retreats. Actually, it now occurs to me that we have to make Veronica Mars a hit just so Bell can keep making these movies. It will stop her from accepting any other jobs, and she clearly needs to be stopped.
I realize I've written this entire review and it sounds like I didn't like the movie. Not true. I liked it, but I liked it as the continuation of a TV show I liked. There's nothing about it that feels particularly cinematic; Thomas hasn't opened up the scope or even changed up his visual style for the feature version. I know there were budget limitations, but it really does look and feel like an extended-length episode of the show. Still, the spirit of the thing is present and the movie is true to most of the characters, even though it tries to serve too many of them.
What ultimately matters is whether or not Veronica Mars will please the fans. As one of them, I can say that it does. It takes the things that were good about the show and keeps doing them. It doesn't offer much closure. It hardly even gives us a progress report as to who these people are now, as it's really only the occupations that have changed. I'd like to think that's one of the movie's deliberate themes -- people don't change and whatnot -- but Veronica Mars doesn't really concern itself with theme. It's too busy making sure the fans get what they want. Because they are both the audience and essentially the shareholders, I guess Thomas' only responsibility is to them.
I can't recommend Veronica Mars to newbies, not even as an entry point -- it's the kind of movie that needs to be watched after seeing the series, not before. After spending less than two hours back in Neptune with Veronica and her dad, I was anxious to go back and rewatch the show. Clearly they did something right. The movie is perfectly watchable and entertaining if you do come in cold, but without any kind of emotional investment it just plays like filler. The TV show was never filler. The movie shouldn't be either.