Without the fans, there would be no Veronica Mars movie. In an act that will go down in history books, the film came into existence through the sheer enthusiasm and financial fortitude of the fans. The 2012 Kickstarter campaign raised $5.7 million dollars, whose backers ranged from the mildly curious wanting to participate in the site’s highest-profile campaign, to the most rabid die-hard fans shelling out thousands to appear as a background extra. I didn’t contribute to the campaign myself, as I hadn’t yet fallen prey to the show’s charms. I only arrived at the series a little over a month ago, binge-watching seasons one, two, and three in preparation for the film’s release, the climax to my full-throttle Veronica Mars experience. While I enjoyed the film immensely, at times I felt like the straight-up “fan service” diluted the film’s potential.
As an extremely recent binge-watcher of Veronica Mars, I was a bit torn in my appreciation of the film. On one hand, the movie was tailor-made for me. With the series fresh in my head, I got every winking reference and was in on every joke. Do casual fans remember that the murdered girlfriend was originally played by Leighton Meester? On the other hand, I had only watched season three’s untidy, yet wholly necessary, ending mere days before. If I had some emotional distance from the series, would I have geeked-out more seeing the characters all grown up? Do these questions even matter?
As the old adage goes, it serves an artist better to give an audience what it needs, rather than what it wants. And boy, did the Veronica Mars movie cater to the fans. It was “fan service” to the nth degree. Series creator and film director Rob Thomas had stated, “partly because [the film] is crowd-sourced, I’m going with the ‘give the people what they want’ version… ‘Let’s not piss people off who all donated. Let’s give them the stuff that I think that they want in the movie.”
As a result of this approach, the movie bent over backwards to make sure every beloved character got their due (next time, Duncan), instead of giving us a truly meaty mystery. The Carrie Bishop murder, while a smart device to bring the action back to Neptune, never quite took off, thanks to all the detours down memory lane. It was standard Veronica Mars mystery fare and the climax between Veronica and Martin Starr (he’s the guest star, so of course he did it) was stale and uninspired (really, a basement showdown?!).
The film’s emotional life, much to its detriment, was too focused on all things Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) and Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell). Rob Thomas decided that what the fans wanted was more LoVe and was determined to spoon-feed us the image of a rehabilitated Logan, down to the pandering shot of him in his too-large Navy uniform. While the sight certainly took the air out of Veronica, it was a touch too blunt. Watching the film eschew all the other dynamic characters in favor of this now-clichéd LoVe story was disappointing. When the fans are the major stakeholders, the film is expected to deliver what they want. But the fans aren’t the authors of this art. The story needed different stakes. Pleasing the fans simply removes all possible surprises. We need to be surprised. It’s healthy, creative, and necessary.
Granted, there wouldn’t be a Veronica Mars movie if Veronica continued her New York City life with the upstanding Piz (Chris Lowell). Poor, poor Piz. He’ll always have his unbelievably rock star job at This American Life. (Hold on. Am I #TeamPiz because I find everything about him utterly relatable? AM I PIZ? Don’t answer that …this Zimbio quiz already did for me.) Veronica’s emotional decisions, however, seemed more in line with her teenage headspace, than her at 28. Veronica’s father, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni, the emotional bedrock of Veronica Mars), was sidelined after his shocker of a car crash, making it clear that the film wasn’t interested in his protestations to leave the bad boy be. Still, Veronica’s character arc of abandoning her burgeoning lawyer career in favor of the alluring and inescapable past in Neptune was strong, addiction metaphor be damned (sorry, Veronica’s addict mom). This pointed character examination elevated the scope of the movie and made it more than just a super-sized episode of television.
At times, the Veronica Mars movie positioned itself as a set-up of things to come, focusing on building the world of Neptune, instead of spending time in the now. I was more intrigued by the film’s B-story, which centered around Weevil (Francis Capra) and Neptune’s corrupt police force, led by the new Sheriff Lamb (Jerry O’Connell). This storyline of police misconduct entwined with racial divides and gentrification stayed truer to the show’s core of smart explorations of social inequity. “When the class war comes, Neptune will be ground zero,” Veronica laments at the top of the film. It’s too bad there wasn’t enough time to dive deeper into these vast class issues.
All of this isn’t to say I didn’t like the film; far from it. I loved the entire engaging experience from start to finish. I squealed with giddiness when Veronica verbally cut Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen) and queen-bee Madison Sinclair down to size. My heart sang with the joy during Veronica’s reunion with bffs Mac (Tina Marjorino) and Wallace (Percy Daggs III). The acting was as sharp as ever, especially with Kristen Bell, whose maturity in the years following the series has only deepened her emotional well.
While I did feel the claustrophobic budget restraints on occasion, the look of the film really popped on the big screen. The visual language stayed true to its noir roots, with dark alleys starkly contrasting with the warm California sun. Oh, and hey there, product placement! Shout-out to Samsung, Pepsi, and Bud Light! Major props must also be given to the film’s rich soundtrack, a highlight of the original series. Sufjan Stevens’ swelling “Chicago,” which underscored Logan and Veronica’s evening escapade, gliding over a sparkling bridge in a sleek convertible, was a perfect, emotionally resonant moment that sincerely captured their epic relationship.
Coming off binge-watching the entire series, I saw the Veronica Mars movie more as a bonus feature and than a grand event, as it must have been for long-time fans. Suffice it to say, I want more Veronica Mars! Rob Thomas and company successfully delivered on Veronica’s transition into the trenches of adulthood. And now that all of the re-introductions are complete, I would love to see what awesomely gripping mysteries the franchise can take on with a mature Veronica at the helm. I have become profoundly invested in all of Neptune’s characters and I hope to see them onscreen again one day. In the meantime, the first book in Rob Thomas’ Veronica Mars series is already downloaded to my Kindle. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, here I come!