Article By: Dan Clark
Veronica Mars has accomplished a great feat just by being made. Making a movie out of a cult hit television show that has been off the air for seven years is usually just fan fodder reserved for the doldrums internet message boards. After one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in crowdfunding history those passionate clamors are actually being met with a Veronica Mars movie.
Before this critique begins I must fully admit that this is my first foray into the Veronica Mars universe. My observations are simply based on how it succeeds as a standalone movie, although I do realize the uniqueness of this case. Typically, overly blatant fan service would be something I heavily criticize when it adds little to the story. Since this movie solely exists because of fans that type of fan service almost feels necessary.
While I cannot proclaim how well Veronica Mars meets its diehard fans expectations, I can say it provides a newcomer like me an understanding of where this fanaticism originates. It was like slowly being brought into someone’s multifaceted inside joke, and by the end finally being able to laugh at all its little intricacies. Veronica Mars may not fully take advantage of its cinematic format as it feels more like an extended pilot episode rather than a full fleshed out movie, but it is at least a pilot episode that has me intrigued for more.
The story picks up in real time about six years after the show concluded. Quickly it catches everyone up with a well-designed ‘previously-on’ prologue that sums up the major points of the television series. Currently Veronica Mars has left her Los Angles home and is now looking to start her law career in New York City. With a possible job at a successful law firm on its way it appears Veronica’s private investigations days are long behind her. This comes to an abrupt change when a former classmate and friend Logan (Jason Dohring) is suspected of murder. In order to help he friend Veronica returns to the town she long left behind…just in time for her high school reunion.
As plots go this does the bare minimum. Nothing about its scope is demanding of a big screen treatment, nor does it go beyond the standard ‘who-done-it’ format. There is just enough to keep your interest. Having Veronica return to her old stomping ground to see how much has changed and how much has stayed the same works well as a device to reestablish this world. Sometimes this is handled in a clunky manner to fast track storytelling, like trying to establish the corruption of the police force by having her randomly witness officers wildly misuse their power on a city street. Other times, like her visit to her High School reunion, established perfectly where her love and disdain for her past life comes from.
Clearly what makes this all work is Kristen Bell as the titular character. From her snappy voiceover to her abrasive demeanor to her unyielding drive to her barrage of her witty quips, she has a personality that is supremely intriguing. Even when the movie is not working on all cylinders Bell is there to pick up the slack. Without her at the helm this movies would be ultimately forgettable.
Easily the best part of the movie is not the murder mystery, but the relationship between Veronica and her father played by Enrico Colantoni. There is honesty within their chemistry that is nonexistent with most of the other cast. When he attempts to pass down fatherly advice by instructing her to leave her past life behind it does not come from a place of nagging but rather a place of genuine hope for the best for her daughter. There is a level of mutual respect that allows them to disagree without it coming off as exceedingly melodramatic. If anything it could have spent more time on this relationship and less on the other tedious subplots.
Parts of those tedious subplots involve a corrupt police force, a hapless love triangle, and another wrongfully accused past high school friend. This is the one area it couldn’t break away from the shackles of the television format. Setting up storylines that pay no immediate dividends but could possibly later down the road negates the possibility of crafting a complete finality to these events. More importantly it takes away from richer story elements like Veronica’s relationship with her father or her attempt to reconnect with past friends.
Issues aside Veronica Mars has intrigued me enough to go back and visit the television show that inspired this movement. There is an inspired mixture of drama, high comedy, and mystery that separates it from similar properties. Moments like a surprising James Franco cameo show that the people behind the film have encouraging sense of humor. Fittingly this could serve as an appropriate farewell to the series, or the sign of a new beginning. Whatever the future fortune may be fans should find solace in the fact that they have shaken the foundation in which movies are made. Now fans of misbegotten franchises everywhere will look at Veronica Mars as a shining beacon of hope. Queue the Firefly Kickstarter in 3…2…1…