‘Veronica Mars’ a Love Letter to Fans, Proves Strength of Television Format

veronica-mars-movie-poster-610x903I’ve been geeking out so hard over this Veronica Mars movie, and so have fans.  Marshmallows, as the fans of the cult hit neo-noir TV show call themselves, have been waiting seven years since the show was cancelled after three seasons in 2007.  The show, which follows a teenage Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) solving mysteries around her corrupt hometown of Neptune, California, has been praised by critics and fans alike.  When the show was cancelled, fans tried incredibly hard to get the CW to bring it back.  Warner Bros. was uninterested in any Veronica Mars ventures though, telling show creator Rob Thomas that they weren’t willing to fund a movie.

Anyone who uses the internet on a regular basis probably heard that Thomas and Bell started a Kickstarter campaign about a year ago to fund the movie.  Thomas was hesitant about the matter, worried that no one will want to donate money and that he’d look like a fool in the process.  As it turns out, the complete opposite was true.  Marshmallows opened up their wallets to fund the movie, surpassing Thomas’ $2 million goal to raise $5.7 million.

The good thing about this campaign, besides the fact that it was resurrecting a beloved TV show, is that it brought some hype to a show that was widely praised, but cancelled due to low ratings.  Simply put, to thrive, Veronica Mars needs as many viewers as it can get.  Hearing and reading about this Kickstarter campaign probably brought a lot of new viewers to the show, including me.  However, Thomas was adamant about keeping the movie simple enough to allow new viewers who haven’t seen the show to be able to enjoy it.  On the other hand, Thomas also wanted to please fans, who were willing to hand out their money to get the movie made.  This is one of the largest conflicts the movie brings about, but there will be more on that later.

The average person might know the premise of Veronica MarsA teenage girl moonlighting as a private investigator as she attends high school and college.  Even Veronica herself, in the opening scene of the movie, “knows how dumb that sounds.”  This opening scene explains nicely what you need to know about Veronica’s backstory with relatively few series spoilers.  It also proves that whatever you thought about the corny, stupid show about a cutesy teen girl solving cases is probably wrong.

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The show has been praised for dealing with dark topics like murder, rape, molestation, and other things.  Its sharp and witty dialogue in addition to Veronica’s charisma and cleverness has drawn comparisons to fellow cult hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer Even Joss Whedon himself has given the show his stamp of approval.  So if you haven’t watched the show, before you read any further, I highly, highly recommend it.  The series is streaming on Amazon Prime and you can probably find the DVDs for relatively cheap online.  The pilot is currently free on iTunes.

I’ve been spending the last few days reading positive tweets about the movie, which premiered a few days ago at SXSW in Texas.  I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers, as it was incredibly important to me to have very little idea in my head what I was about to watch.  Well, aside from my knowledge of the TV show about Veronica’s witty banter and her voice-overs.

Warning: Minimal spoilers ahead

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I knew from the trailer that the film would take place nine years after show ended and follow a 28-year-old Veronica as she’s graduating from law school.  After realizing the harmful effects her sleuthing has had on not only herself, but also the people she cares about, Veronica decided to put solving cases behind her, as well as her hometown of Neptune.  Throughout the three seasons of VMthe audience comes to know Neptune as a pretty corrupt place – a town without a middle class.  As Veronica puts it in the show’s pilot, you’re either a millionaire or you work for one.  The upper class is often corrupt, discriminating against the lower class and blaming them for many of the town’s problems.  In the movie, we see the place has only gotten worse in Veronica’s absence.

Veronica is now living with her college boyfriend, Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell), a relatively safe and predictable guy.  The two broke up before Veronica transferred to Stanford to complete a Psychology degree and go on to law school.  Veronica appears perfectly content trying to live a normal life, but she’s pulled back in when her ex-boyfriend Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), is accused of murdering his most recent ex, pop star Bonnie DeVille.  We learn from the beginning of the film that Bonnie is actually Carrie Bishop, a girl Veronica and Logan used to go to high school with that appeared in two episodes of the series.  Originally played by Leighton Meester, the role was given to a newcomer due to Meester’s conflicting schedule.

Logan is a former bad boy, referred to as “an obligatory psychotic jackass” by Veronica in the pilot.  The two hit it off at the end of season one of the show, eventually breaking up right before the series ended.  Fans love seeing these two together.  To make a Veronica Mars movie without at least some romantic tension between these two would be an injustice to the fans.

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Veronica returns to Neptune originally to help Logan pick a good lawyer, but when things just don’t add up, she decides she needs to stay and help him figure out what actually happened to Carrie.

Veronica and her father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni), were loved on the show for their loving, and sometimes strained relationship.  Keith is happy to have her home, but doesn’t condone her staying and helping Logan.  He tries to warn her to go back to New York, as she was finally able to get out of Neptune and have a good life.

Meanwhile, her best friends, Wallace Fennel (Percy Daggs III) and Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie (Tina Majorino) are happy to have her back home for at least a few days.  Both have changed a lot in the years since the series.  Wallace, once a popular high school basketball star, is now a teacher and basketball coach at Neptune High School.  Mac, once a social outcast and high school computer nerd, is now a big shot at a local software company.  Both want Veronica to go to their ten year reunion with them.  She’s hesitant at first, but they’re able to get her to go.

A high school reunion, as it turns out, is really the way to go.  How else are we going to involve so many beloved characters from Veronica’s past?  So many former Neptune High students who used to ask Veronica for her help?  People like Veronica’s former, quirky, and lovingly dumb frienemy, Gia Goodman (Krysten Ritter).  Logan’s best friend and jackass Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen).  Former biker gang leader and ally to Veronica, Eli “Weevil” Navaro (Francis Capra).  Sean Frederick (Kevin Sheridan), the guy who pretended to be rich to impress his friends when in reality he’s the son of a butler.  Luke Halderman (Sam Huntington), a former high school baseball star who got caught up in steroid smuggling.  Veronica’s sometimes ally, the lovable stoner Corny (Jonathan Chesner).  And who could forget the self-righteous bitch, Veronica’s high school nemesis, Madison Sinclair (Amanda Noret)?

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The audience is quickly brought back to Veronica’s high school days as the same tension between the former students is brought back immediately.  And would it really be Veronica Mars without it?  Something happens and a fight ensues in typical VM manner.

The movie seems to balance the reunion plot and the murder plot well, effectively blending the two together to create a deeper mystery.  We get to see where all the characters from the show ended up ten years down the line.  Thomas is smart enough to not only include these characters for the fans, but to include them in the main plot.  Part of what made the original show so great is having well known, at least somewhat important characters involved in the more important mysteries.

Even Keith’s morally bankrupt rival P.I., Vinnie Van Lowe (Ken Marino), former deputy and love interest to Veroinica, Leo D’Amato (Max Greenfield), and public defender and ally to Keith, Cliff McCormack (Daran Norris), make at least brief appearances in the movie.

A side plot involving Weevil and Celeste Kane (Lisa Thornhill), the mother of Veronica’s murdered friend Lilly and former boyfriend Duncan, is introduced.  This comes to light just how corrupt Neptune has really become, even leading Deputy Sacks (Brandon Hillock) to reach out to Keith, the former sheriff, for help.  I believe Thomas included this in the movie to let the audience in on what a horrible place Neptune is, and show them why it needs people like Veronica around to shed some light on the many wrongs people are committing.

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Thomas has expressed multiple times that the movie was essentially made for the fans, but designed for newcomers to enjoy.  The bigger plots of the show, including Lilly Kane’s (Amanda Seyfried) murder and the mass murder of several of Veronica’s classmates in season two, are touched upon briefly if not at all.  Even then, however, newcomers might be confused.  Not in the plot of the movie – a film about a former teen private investigator returning to her corrupt hometown to solve the murder of her ex-boyfriend’s last girlfriend – but in why certain aspects are included.

A newbie might ask why Veronica dropped everything in New York to come help Logan.  What’s the big deal with her college sex tape?  Why is the obnoxious Dick Casablancas diagnosed with depression (actually one of my favorite aspects of the movie)?  What’s the significance of the subplot involving Weevil and Celeste Kane?  What do either of these two characters have to do with anything?  Why is Keith so persistent that Veronica stay out of Neptune?

The most important thing newcomers will be missing is character beats – backstories of certain characters and their relationships with one another.  This proves to be one of the most important parts of the movie, and the show.  Both are very much character driven, but the movie especially is.  Let’s be real here: Fans didn’t open their wallets for a great plot.  Okay, maybe they did.  But they primarily paid for this because they loved these characters.  I love these characters.  We wanted to see what happened to them.  We wanted some sort of resolution to the show, even if Rob Thomas isn’t a fan of wrapping things up in a neat little bow for us.

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Thomas is successful though in allowing character growth.  In her opening monologue, Veronica tells the audience that she’s grown up since the series end.  That she is no longer angry or vengeful.  I didn’t necessarily believe this when I saw it, but it turns out to be true.  Veronica is still the same witty, clever, and resourceful girl.  At times we’re able to see a bit of her anger, but she really has grown up.  Fans like to complain about her behavior in the show – how distrusting she was to people like Logan, even accusing him of murder at one point.  But in the movie, she comes to his aid in a heartbeat, telling him right off the bat that she doesn’t believe he did it.  Her trademark anger is reduced here, but not gone.  To be honest, part of what made Veronica so great as a character were these flaws.  Remnants are still there – like cussing out guys hitting on her at a club (particularly giving a dirty look to her real life husband Dax Shepard as he dances obnoxiously in front of her) or being stubborn enough to not take her father’s advice about going back to New York.  However, I suppose the growing up is pretty satisfying too.

The murder mystery plot isn’t overly compelling.  We don’t necessarily care all that much who murdered Carrie, but we are interested in proving Logan is innocent.  Like stated above, Thomas is smart enough to involve characters from the show in the deeper mystery of the movie.  In all honesty, he does a good job and the final product is somewhere very close to where the best it possibly can be.

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However, walking out of the theater, you’ll probably have a newfound appreciation for Veronica Mars as a television show.  With its season long mystery arcs, Thomas is given 20+ episodes to develop a compelling story, develop relationships between characters, drop clues and red herrings, and ultimately reveal shocking information – that includes the “big reveal” at the end of the first two seasons of the show.

Cramming all of this into a movie is hard, essentially leading to cutting corners and a rushed feeling.  There might be a few minor shocking plot points here and there, but nothing too big.  In the TV show, we’re desperately striving to know more.  However, because of the time constraint, we aren’t fully invested in the mystery plot.  I will give Thomas credit for developing a relatively interesting idea.  However, as I watched the movie, I was waiting and waiting for the mystery to delve deeper.  For more red herrings to be included.  For more plot twists.  But in the end, things were relatively straightforward as far as Veronica Mars goes.  The “big reveal” wasn’t nearly as interesting as it could have been.  A bit of suspense is added into the mix as Veronica confronts the murderer toward the end, but the whole ordeal seems short, rushed, and disappointing compared to each season finale of the show.  It becomes apparent by the end that Veronica Mars doesn’t need a movie.  It needs another season.

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Several beloved characters are underused in the movie.  That includes people like Weevil, Wallace, Mac, and even Keith.  Weevil is given a minor plotline in the film.  Wallace and Mac are there to help Veronica with her sleuthing, but aren’t seen all that much.  Keith is barely there to help Veronica with her sleuthing.  This isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault though.  Having so many characters, such high fan expectations, and several storylines to wrap up, Thomas had a lot to do with a relatively small budget and a relatively short amount of time.  The movie dabs a little bit of everything that fans might want to see and puts them into one flick.  In the end, he was able to make a movie that fans wanted – a good one at that – but not necessarily one that can compete with its origin show and win.

The time constraint for this movie is probably one of the biggest issues here.  The movie isn’t necessarily short, but compared to watching the show, you’re going to feel like it is.  And by the end, you’re going to be thinking “I can’t wait for the next episode.”

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Even with the short amount of time the cast and crew were given to shoot, the acting is never subpar.  Bell proves that she’s still able to convey Veronica’s sassy and clever character.

The idea that this movie was funded by fans is beautiful.  I think it’s great.  I think it brought fans closer together.  It put the power in their hands.  It proved just how strong the love for a great story can be.  I’m so incredibly happy that this movie was made.  I’m going to have to see it again soon to process more of it.  However, I feel that my opinion will probably still stand.

Thomas did pretty much the best he could with this movie, and fans won’t be disappointed.  This movie, like stated above, is pretty much a love letter to them, giving them everything they want.  It will also, however, give you a newfound appreciation for television and Veronica Mars as a television show.  Veronica Mars was really designed for that kind of format, and ideally, that’s where it should stay.  I hope that the movie doesn’t get a sequel, but the TV show is revived through Netflix or something similar.  And if you haven’t seen the show yet?  The movie will seem okay to you, but what you need to do is go start watching season one.  That’s where you’re going to find the gold.

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And if you’re a fan?  You probably won’t get as invested in the mystery as you did with the show.  You’re going to be wishing you got to see more of X character in the movie.  You’re not going to get the same emotional trauma you received during that rooftop scene in season two.  But you’re probably going to be happy to watch a good movie that you might have been waiting seven years to see.  And if anything, you’ll probably be bobbing your head and happily singing along to The Dandy Warhols’ “We Used to Be Friends” as the credits roll, thanking Bell, Thomas, and the 91,000 Kickstarter backers for bringing a beloved, underappreciated show back to life.

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2 thoughts on “‘Veronica Mars’ a Love Letter to Fans, Proves Strength of Television Format

  1. Pingback: Veronica Mars Movie – A Review | Brin's Book Blog

  2. Pingback: Everything ‘Veronica Mars’ Does Right – Why You Should Watch the Cult Hit | The Medium

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