The Veronica Mars Movie Review: Still Friends After All These Years
The world of cult TV is a peculiar one. Television shows are canceled all the time, but through the world of DVDs, Netflix, and Amazon, shows pulled from network schedules before their time now have the opportunity to grow a loyal, faithful audience long after the grass has grown over their graves. Those fans often wonder if they'll ever see their favorite characters again, and every once in awhile that wish comes true. Seven years after it was canceled, Veronica Mars, which became a cult phenomenon since it premiered its last new episode on The CW in 2007, returned for one more mystery, this time on the big screen.
As any true fan can tell you, Veronica Mars was a witty, one-of-a-kind teen noir series that tackled everything from rape and murder to class warfare. A social outcast after her sheriff father (Enrico Colantoni) wrongfully accused a very rich, very powerful man of murdering his daughter (who was Veronica's best friend and the sister of Veronica's boyfriend), Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) was largely on her own in a town full of obnoxious and privileged children of movie stars and CEOs. But the Southern California town of Neptune was divided along class lines. Veronica didn't fit in with the popular kids, known as the 09-ers, after her father's wrongful accusation, but she didn't fit in with the working class either on account of her former association to those same 09-ers. She became a fierce, independent teen whose weapon of choice against her enemies was her mind, her wit, and the occasional stun-gunning. Each episode of the series tackled a new mystery for Veronica to solve, while an overarching larger mystery unfolded over the course of the entire season. It's not every day a series like Veronica Mars shows up on TV, and so it makes perfect sense that Veronica Mars in its film incarnation be as unique as the series from which it was born.
Funded by fans via a Kickstarter that broke several records and reached its goal of $2 million in less than 12 hours, the Veronica Mars film was a labor of love for all parties involved. The movie, which looked great despite not having had the funds it would have had if it had been completely backed by the studio, felt like an extended episode of the TV series. Some people might look at that and see a failure, but to any Veronica Mars fan, that's the highest form of praise. Instead of an ending, the movie felt like a brand-new chapter recently discovered at the end of a favorite book.
Series creator Rob Thomas has always been cognizant of the fact that the film would not exist if it weren't for the fans, and has said on more than one occasion that it was imperative that they make a film that would do right by the fans who donated their hard-earned cash to bring this beautiful work to life. And that's what he did. He created a film that he knew the fans would love. And he should know, because he's probably the series' biggest fan outside of Kristen Bell herself. Without Thomas and Bell keeping alive their dream of one day shooting a film, fans might have given up hope of ever returning to the seedy seaside town of Neptune, California.
By the time Veronica traded in her pin-straight hair and fancy New York lawyer duds for the jeans, jacket, and beach waves uniform she wore for three seasons, it was clear Veronica was never going to go back to the seemingly perfect life she had in New York with Piz (Chris Lowell). It doesn't matter if everyone knew going in that she'd end up choosing Neptune over New York and ex-boyfriend Logan (Jason Dorhing) over Piz, because it's exactly what the fans wanted to see. It's what the fans paid upfront to see. It's the open-ended ending the fans waited seven years for. In short: The film delivered.
The movie, which followed the first case Veronica had worked since she transferred to Stanford after one year at Hearst College, and which happened to coincide with her 10 year high school reunion, felt exactly like that: A reunion. Because Thomas wanted to please the fans, the movie attempted to bring back as many original cast members from the series as possible, from the still-bitchy Madison Sinclair (Amanda Noret), to the dirty and shameless Vinnie Van Lowe (Ken Marino), who might actually be living in a van now, to the effortlessly charming Deputy-now-detective Leo (Max Greenfield). The movie was a parade of familiar faces, but to fans of the series, it felt a bit like home. Each time a character appeared on screen, it was a wink and a nod to fans. The theater I was in collectively sighed aloud when Leo appeared. The film itself probably won't do anything to bring in new fans, but its mere existence might inspire people to find the series on Amazon Prime just to find out what all the fuss is about.
It makes sense that the person to pull Veronica back to Neptune and the private eye world was Logan. He'd been part of the reason she'd left town and their self-proclaimed epic love story was left unfinished. If I take issue with anything in the film, however, it would be the way in which it portrayed her relationship with both Logan and the job of being a private investigator as a drug. Over the course of the series, it was clear her relationship with Logan was toxic, but Logan has grown up and matured considerably in the nine years since we last saw him. Yes, he was quick to resort to violence when Veronica's sex tape played at the reunion, but that doesn't change the fact that Logan has come very far since his self-destructive days. He joined the navy and became a pilot. He became a stabilizing force for his girlfriend, Carrie Bishop, whose murder was the central mystery of the movie. Veronica might not have been able to quit Logan and her first taste of working a case in years might have been intoxicating, but I don't know that the addiction voiceovers helped sell the story, because it implies there's something wrong with it.
Some might argue that that's true, that Veronica should have chosen the nice guy and the secure, high-paying job of being a lawyer, but Veronica was never meant for that world. She said it herself that she's an adrenaline-junkie, which plays into the addiction idea, but I don't think it's an addiction. I just think Veronica isn't content with the safe world provided by Piz and the world of law. Considering Veronica's own rap sheet and the fact that she was arrested for breaking and entering within a few days of returning to Neptune, it's obvious she'd never have been happy as a lawyer; She craves the excitement of the chase, she craves the excitement and passion of her relationship with Logan. We all know that in a perfect world, Veronica would have chosen Piz, but in the world of television and movies, she was always destined to return home to Neptune, to her father Keith, to the world of Mars Investigations, and yes, to Logan.
Keith's vocal opposition to Veronica leaving New York and the opportunities there felt real and were grounded in reality. He's a father who only wants the best for his daughter. But like fetch, it was never going to happen. I could take issue with the fact that Veronica was awfully quick to jump back in to bed with Logan after Piz ended their relationship, but it's important to remember that in the world of film, there's not enough time for the slow-burn angst provided by television's serialized storytelling, which is something the series always excelled at.
The mystery of who killed Carrie Bishop wasn't the most exciting or intricate case Veronica has ever tackled, but once again, the movie had to find a way to work in a case that would draw Veronica back to Neptune, as well as find a way to work in the cameos fans desperately wanted to see in a short, finite amount of time. Revealing Martin Starr's new character Stu "Cobb" Cobbler to be Carrie's murderer made sense, because having it be someone fans knew and loved would have been crushing to the audience. The fact that Dick really never knew the truth about what happened to Susan Knight on that boat was in line with the Dick that fans have come to love or come to love to hate. In short, everything that happened in the film felt just right.
Success in this industry will always be measured by how much money a film makes, and there is a special dollar amount the movie must bring in to warrant a sequel, but to fans of the series, none of that really matters. It was never about the money, it was about seeing Veronica, Logan, Keith, Wallace, Mac, Dick, Weevil, and Piz again. Veronica Mars' success will never be measured in dollar signs, but in whether or not the film made fans happy, and to that end it definitely succeeded. It was easy to slip back into the world of Neptune and these characters we've come to know and love as if they're people we know in real life. This show and this movie mean something different to every fan; I saw the film with a friend I'd made nearly 10 years ago because of a shared love for television, and Veronica Mars specifically. Our friendship was literally born in the seedy underbelly of Neptune, and I wouldn't have wanted to watch the film with anyone else. I'd spent hours discussing the Lily Kane murder case with her, and so to watch this new chapter in Veronica's story unfold together felt like we'd come full circle in that moment.
Thomas Wolfe was wrong when he said you can't go home again, because Veronica returned to the world of Neptune and it felt right. And everything about the Veronica Mars film felt right. It wasn't without its flaws, but in this instance, those flaws, much like the flaws of Neptune itself, are what makes it so entertaining. Whether or not Warner Bros. decides to revisit Veronica's story, either in movie or television form (there are already plans for a book series, and a short web series spin-off on The CW Seed) doesn't really matter, because the movie tied up the dangling threads left by the series' unfortunate cancellation, but also left the door open for a future return. A long time ago, we used to be friends, but it's obvious now that those friendships are for a lifetime.
– Dick Casablancas was back in fine form in the movie: "Is anyone surprised that I am the only one in this room who does not have a sex tape?", "Welcome to the B.C., bitch!", "I can feel my self-worth coming back right now!", "Hoobity-boobities." Be still my seriously messed up heart.
– I'm torn on how Weevil's story ended. In a way, it felt right to see see Weevil get back on his bike, but he scored a hot wife and has a daughter now! Having Celeste Kane shoot him, though, was not worth having Celeste Kane in the movie. That's probably one cameo the film could have done without.
– Let's Go Back to My Van: The Vinnie Van Lowe Story (Please, please, please for the love of all that is holy let Rob Thomas write this book and release as part of the Veronica Mars canon. I would buy like 30 copies and give them out to all my friends.)
– R.I.P. Deputy Sacks, you were too precious for this world. I enjoyed that a character we'd come to know through his various appearances as a tertiary character on the series played a role like this one in the film. It's sad knowing he was the last good cop in Neptune and now he's dead. But like Veronica said, kudos for rocking the 'stache until it came back in style, man.
– R.I.P. Gia, you may not have been the smartest character, or even the best character, but you didn't deserve to die either.
– Who's worse: Sheriff Dan Lamb or Sheriff Don Lamb? It's Dan, right?
– "Dance better."
– "Oh that's right, we were shooting some of our usual leg erotica."
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