The Veronica Mars movie, Veronica Mars, is the first theatrical release I have seen that is purely, unabashedly for the fans. This is what happens when 91,000 plus fans support a project on Kickstarter and raise over $3 million. Rob Thomas, the writer, director and producer (Kristen Bell is also a producer), really didn’t have to deal with some studio guy wanting the movie to reach out to a new audience and increase market share.
This means that, for the faithful, this is like an uninterrupted two-part episode of the TV show, which higher production values and slightly rougher language. In other words, it is great.
I was a big fan of the show, and I loved this movie. I loved it so much that I stood up and sang along out loud with the theme song, at the end. Or course, at the 12:30 show on a Tuesday, I was the only person in the theater, so this wasn’t as embarrassing as it sounds.
Back in the “double-oughts” (2004-2007) Veronica Mars was a TV show on the CW a show with a strange and original premise. Veronica, played by Kristen Bell, was a junior in high school, daughter of the sheriff of a small California beach town. Her best friend was murdered, and her father accused one of the wealthy and powerful men in town. He was disgraced and eventually lost his job. Veronica fell from her precarious almost-middle-class niche into a chasm of ostracism. She was drugged at a party and raped. She emerged from these triple tragedies with a strong sense of disillusionment, a white-hot rage and a commitment to solve her friend’s murder.
Neptune was a town with no middle class; it had the uber-wealthy and the people who maintained their landscapes, cleaned their pools, who looked in from the outside at what they would never possess. Wealth, power and celebrity ran Neptune. The town was filled with toxic secrets.
The show was snarky, edgy, self-aware; it bubbled over with pop-culture references and oozed a gritty film noire vibe. It did those bubbling/oozing things at the same time. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did.
Nine years later, Veronica has graduated from Stanford and Columbia Law School. She is with her long-term boyfriend, a month away from taking the bar, and interviewing at major New York City law firms. She is a calmer, mellower young woman, literally weeks away from leaving the hell-hole of her adolescence behind her forever. A call from Logan Echolls, the former angry-bad-boy flame from Neptune, calls her home just in time for her tenth annual class reunion. (This is to explain why all the other characters are there.) Echolls is in trouble. He’s been accused of killing his high-profile celebrity girlfriend. Veronica tells herself and Piz, the understanding boyfriend, that she is just going home to help Logan pick a good lawyer. We know better. We know Veronica.
With TV-show Neptune, Rob Thomas anticipated the Occupy movement and the anger against privilege by at least a year. Now, in the movie, things have gotten even worse. The police force is completely corrupt; private detective Keith Mars, Veronica’s father, is a deliberate thorn in their side. The movie expects viewers to know and remember the characters; the selfish, entitled surfer-boy, the conflicted sheriff’s deputy, the cheerfully slimy competitive private eye, Veronica’s two friends Wallace and Mac. Her other friend, a “PCHer” (Pacific-Crest Highway), Weevil, has gone straight, gotten married and has a beautiful little girl. In the world of Neptune, these are not keys to the kingdom, they are hostages to fortune. Most importantly, we all remember Logan Echolls; smart, damaged, passionate, violent Logan, Veronica’s true love.
As in the show, the movie counts on a lot of voice-over narration by Veronica. Usually, voice-over narration in a movie signals trouble to me. Because this came straight from the show, and because Veronica’s rueful, snarky comments made the show, it fit right in here. Veronica uses the language of addiction and recovery throughout the movie. At first it seems as if Logan is the “drug” she thinks she has kicked, but as the story continues, we realize it’s not Logan, or at least, not just Logan. It’s Neptune. It’s fighting the taken-for-granted idea that certain people just don’t matter. It’s uncovering secrets; it’s facing down the spoiled, insulated, hypocritical people who perch at the top of a very steep pyramid.
As with the show, the mystery is layered. Mysteries in Neptune almost always are the fruit of some other dark, festering secret, and the movie is no different.
Enrico Colantoni played Keith Mars in the show and in the film. While I can’t remember ever seeing him give a bad performance, his interpretation of Keith Mars is one of my favorites. There was a one-second glitch in the film when he sounded a little too much like his character from Galaxy Quest, but I soon got over that. Francis Capra, Percy Daggs III and Tina Majorino are awesome as Veronica’s friends. Frankly, since Logan has grown up and settled down a little, and Jason Dohring has added some acting experience and gotten a bit of polish, I missed the rawness of the “old” Logan, but that is a mild nuisance, not a serious flaw in the film. Jerry O’Connell does a nice turn as a new sheriff more corrupt than the last.
When I watched the show, I remember thinking that the outright meanness of the students seemed over the top sometimes. Since then, I’ve been on Facebook and Twitter, and I see I misunderstood. Thomas nails the viciousness perfectly.
While I think someone who hadn’t seen the show would enjoy the mystery here, I recommend viewing at least the first season of the TV show if you want to see it. Don’t be confused; Veronica Mars is V.I. Warshawski or Philip Marlowe, not Nancy Drew. Neptune is no St. Mary Mead; it’s LA, or maybe Wall Street, in miniature. And this is one fine movie.