Directed by: Rob Thomas
Screenplay by: Rob Thomas and Dianne Ruggiero
Cast: Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Krysten Ritter, Enricco Colantoni, Ryan Hansen, Chris Lowell, Percy Daggs III, Tina Majorino, Francis Capra
On many levels, it is a bit bizarre that a review for Veronica Mars movie is being reviewed, and by the MNL Film Club at that. For one, the movie itself didn’t premiere in Manila.
For what it’s worth, Veronica Mars the series did air in one free TV channel in the country, although it was cancelled 7 years ago, and prematurely so. This was a time before the Internet served as a definitive guide to what’s cool and what’s not. And in a time before television shows were debated heatedly in dinner-time conversations, Veronica Mars aired stuff normally unheard of in a teen show — rape, racism, homosexuality, drugs — to put it mildly, it definitely was no Gilmore Girls. It did struggle to stay alive for 3 years before it went down, and it went down swinging. With DVDs, word of mouth, and internet streaming services, Veronica Mars felt more alive than before it went off-air.
Fans believed in Veronica like people clapped Tinker Bell back from the dead, except that instead of clapping, they sent 5.7 million dollars to get the movie made via Kickstarter, and instead of a tiny blond fairy, they resurrected a tiny blond detective. Even then, there are movie-backers, and there are Filipino movie-backers* — proving the lengths that the fans are willing to go for the love of a fictional character. It was, in a way, a “fuck you” to Warner Bros. who refused to fund the movie or revive the series. A year later, the movie comes out in theatres and online downloads, and it still slightly feels surreal.
The kickassery surrounding its revival is almost telling as to the series’ plot. Its teen-noir theme was almost unprecedented, and in many ways, it was ahead of time. The eponymous teenage hero thrived in the fictional Neptune, California, a town of haves and have-nots, and where there is no middle class. There, Veronica Mars is the champion for the underdogs, the oppressed and the misunderstood. There’s something about a quirky, sassy girl who exceeds expectations — and that what Veronica Mars has been all about, from its plot to its very survival as a movie franchise.
The series is not separable to the movie, primarily since it wasn’t allowed to continue as a series that it was forced to transform its medium. The movie starts off with Veronica far from her roots — living in New York having finished law school, in a relationship, and has a job offer away from the white picket fence dream. The plot borrows from The Godfather 3: “just when she thought she was out, they pull her back in.” “They,” in this case, is Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), Veronica’s ex-lover, who is accused of killing a high school classmate. Veronica goes to help him pick out a lawyer — “weed out the shysters,” she says — much to the chagrin of her boyfriend Piz (Chris Lowell). Going to the whole mythology, Logan is both Veronica’s dead best friend’s boyfriend and ex-boyfriend’s best friend, and also the man who beat Piz to a bloody pulp after jumping into wrong conclusions in the series finale. It’s Logan’s third murder charge, the past two of which Veronica helped vanish; odds are, she’d help him with this one too. Of course, none of these are in the movie, and it’s left to the fans to fill in the gaps, remember the backstory, and pull out the significance from particular events happening on the screen.
The movie is, after all, for the fans. The predictability and the convenience with which it arranged a reunion of its characters, in this regard, is forgivable. While at the core of the series, there are major cases which Veronica must solve, the movie works backwards — adding the characters first and then superimposing a dark, yet easy mystery for her to solve. Nevertheless, the movie retained the essence of the TV show which the fans of the show had come to love: superficially, the snarky banters sprinkled with pop-culture references, the deliberate indie soundtrack, a witty Veronica (brought to life by the spunky Kristen Bell) who won’t take shit from anyone; on an entirely different level, the social divide remains, and the heartfelt connection between the characters are as stronger as ever. “I don’t think there’s a world where I would have made the Veronica Mars art house film that pleased no one — but knowing that we were crowd-funded, there is an element of the movie that’s giving the people what they want,” said Thomas, and seeing the characters fall back into their old rhythms, a fan would be served exactly that. An art form is not required to be inclusive of all audience to be successful, and Veronica Mars proves this.
Nor does the movie need to be a work apart of the series. Staying true to its themes is when Veronica Mars is at its best. In transcending from TV to film, it hasn’t abandoned its sense of purpose. There are plots left hanging, and Rob Thomas manifests how he wants Veronica on the same path of crucification of the corrupt in the seedier Hellmouth that is Neptune. In fact, those who would argue that the film lost its noir vibe is confused how dark it is that (spoiler alert) the hero relapses into addiction, one that she had been rationally spent 9 years escaping. A parallel subplot with the quintessential gang leader Eli Navarro (Francis Capra) supports the theme. Neptune is inescapable, for the better or the worst.
If there is one underlying motive Thomas has, it’s the hope of bringing in more people to the project. There are murder mysteries waiting to be solved, and character development left to be explored (i.e. Will Logan stay in the Navy? What happens to Weevil?). Veronica Mars’ greatest suit must be in holding out on its fans for the promise of a much grandiose surprise. The way the movie left Veronica, all covered in the proverbial mud from returning to her roots, the future series deliciously smells of more “marshmallows and promises.”
And come on, if you’re haven’t watched this show, this movie’s existence is a great big post-it note reminding you that you should. You’ve watched a TV show for much less.
NOTE: The next Veronica Mars canon comes in the book The Thousand Dollar Tan-Line, An Original Mystery by Rob Thomas.
*Yes, the author is a proud backer.
MNL Film Club Score: 1.25