Full Disclosure: I have been a Veronica Mars fan for years, and I participated in the Kickstarter campaign to bring one of my all-time favorite detectives to the big screen.
During three seasons in 2004-2007, Veronica Mars earned a small but loyal fanbase. During its final year, changes were made to the structure of the show, and finally, it was canceled. Many, including creator Rob Thomas, felt the final episode did not provide closure, particularly for the character arcs, and attempts have been made over the years to fund a Veronica Mars movie. Finally, through Kickstarter, the project came to fruition.
Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) came from a broken home. Her best friend was murdered when she was in high school, and her dad Keith (Enrico Colantoni) lost his job as sheriff when he accused the most powerful man in town of being the murderer. To add to Veronica’s troubles, her alcoholic mother left the family. With the loss of her dad’s job, their home, and the town’s goodwill, Veronica became a social pariah in school. The TV series shows us how a seemingly delicate girl on top of the world became an angry avenger of the underprivileged. Having watched her dad become a Private Detective, the teenage Veronica picked up her father’s talent for the trade, as well as his integrity and moral code, and she used it to help those in need and to avenge the wrongs committed by Neptune, California’s corrupt elites.
When the film picks up, Veronica is ten years removed from high school. She moved East to study law, and she is applying for a high-profile, lucrative job in New York. She is in a serious relationship with an old college boyfriend, Piz (Chris Lowell), and she has abandoned her combative need to right the social wrongs she sees in favor of a more serene life. In the middle of her job interview, she receives a desperate phone call from someone she hasn’t seen in almost a decade, her high school lover Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring, pictured). Logan and Veronica have a history, both were angry young people, and they loved each other deeply. In the end, their relationship was too volatile and ended. For as long as she’s known him, Logan has always been in trouble. Now- and not for the first time in his life- he’s been accused of murder. The son of a movie star, Logan always hobnobbed with other rich young people. Now, his famous singer girlfriend has been found dead, after a series of high-profile fights with Logan.
Against her better judgment, and against the wishes of her father, her boyfriend and her friends, Veronica goes back to California. She’s not alone in returning to town. Her high school class is celebrating their 10 year reunion, and Veronica finds that old feuds, like old habits, die hard.
So, is the film worth watching? I would say the answer is complicated. As a fan of the series, and Kickstarter backer, this film was literally made for me, and for people like me. From the POV of a fan, I would have to say the film delivered in every way. It provided resolution to the arcs that were left dangling on the show. It brought back many of Veronica’s friends and enemies, and the actors who played them. Because the fan community for this title is so dedicated, they’ve followed Rob Thomas (and the actors) to other projects, including the Starz series Party Down. There is a connection and affection that exists surrounding Veronica Mars that might not exist for other shows and their creative talent. The Kickstarter campaign was a continuation of that, and the resulting film feels almost like a love letter to the fans. In addition to this, the film explored many of the themes that fans loved in the TV series, including class warfare, and the development of Veronica from a girl to a woman.
That being said, the film is a stand alone-mystery. A newcomer would be able to follow along, and the screenplay provides enough background for the uninitiated to understand what is going on. The film can definitely be followed, the question is: can it be felt? I don’t think a newcomer would understand or care about the character beats in the Veronica Mars movie. Though the film shows some of the contrasts between the present-day Veronica and the Veronica that left years ago, new viewers might not fully grasp the differences nor appreciate why they matter. I think, for someone going in without any prior knowledge, this would be an enjoyable, but forgettable, movie. It’s well-acted, Thomas’ writing remains sharp and funny, and it’s fun, but I don’t think it will resonate to those who haven’t seen the show.
The entire allure of Veronica Mars is encapsulated in its theme song: “We used to be friends, a long time ago.” It is incredibly satisfying to fans of the show and its characters, effectively giving them a decade’s worth of growth. For newbies, it might still be a fun ride.
Veronica Mars premieres on HBO on August 23rd. Take a look at the trailer and see if it piques your interest.