By Simon Miraudo
March 11, 2014
You get what you pay for, and the Veronica Mars movie, literally funded by 91,585 fans via Kickstarter, is evidence enough. When Warner Bros wouldn’t pony up the dough for a feature adaptation of the cult television series, creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell took to the crowd-sourcing site and coerced – nicely, of course – their precious “marshmallows” to donate the $2 million budget themselves. The marshmallows did them one better. The final tally came in at $5.7 million.
When money’s involved, however, there’s always a catch. If the very people who kept the legend of teen detective Veronica Mars alive in the nine years since the axing were going to back a pricey new adventure, they’d expect a few things in return (not just a commemorative T-shirt, as promised to those who pledged $25 or more). Writer-director Thomas and his co-scripter, Diane Ruggiero, must have felt some pressure to appease those filling the coffers, especially if they wanted another crack down the line. Otherwise, the online outrage would be enough to demolish the franchise’s legacy once and for all. The final product is proof of that alone, a complete blurring of the line between fan-funded and fan-fiction. Think of those 91,585 donors as one very frightening Super PAC, unreasonably invested in the on-again-off-again relationships of fictional teenagers.
But hey, I’m a fan (if not one of the funders) and it’s hard to see the problem of handing the keys over to the inmates from this side of the cell. It’s freeing to know a movie can be magicked into existence by the people who want to see it, even if they’re not necessarily the ones who know what to do with it. Veronica Mars isn’t as good as the show’s best episodes and takes a little while to get going. When it does – about the time newly-minted lawyer Veronica ditches her stuffy suit in favour of a familiar outfit – the flick manages to recapture something like that old feeling once more. At the very least, graduating a spunky heroine from the small screen to the large, where her kind are few and far between, is worth celebrating.
Readers unfamiliar with Veronica Mars: I feel you. I was even among you until early last year when I realised this project was actually happening and I should probably do my due diligence and work through its excellent three seasons. Bell starred as Veronica, daughter of private eye Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), both pariahs in the fictional Californian town of Neptune, where the class divide is positively cavernous. Despite being largely set at a high school, our young hero regularly dealt with killers, paedophiles, and even a serial rapist who shaved his victims’ heads. It got bleak.
We begin many years after the finale, with Veronica living in New York City and fielding a job offer from a fancy law firm. When her brooding old flame Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) is accused of murder (as he often is), Veronica returns to Neptune to see if she can help find the real culprit. She leaves behind nice-guy Piz (Chris Lowell), her boyfriend of a year and the ‘Victor Laszlo’ of this particular love triangle, if you ask the Veronica Mars community. Actually, that’s probably too generous. People would rather see Veronica shack up with Peter Lorre than Piz. He gets short shrift. There will be few complaints.
As the film unfolds – with a dark, silver tinge courtesy of cinematographer Ben Kutchins yet unlike the inventive colour palette of the still-shadowy noir TV show – Veronica runs into a few friends and plenty of enemies, their 10-year school reunion on the horizon. How the introduction of those totally immaterial to the plot will play out for viewers making this their Veronica Mars entry point, I don’t know. Luckily, the actors – Ryan Hansen, Max Greenfield, Ken Marino, among them – are so fun and such welcome presences, I suspect they’ll be received happily. I’m hesitant to list any other cast-members, or new entrants, for fear of giving you too many suspects to pick from. Besides, this picture is more concerned with putting characters in fun combinations than astounding us with some major, series-rethinking discovery. One of the joys of the show was attempting to unravel the season-long mysteries and always being unbalanced by the shocking reveals. This cover-up isn’t quite as surprising, although the climactic confrontation manages to be at least a bit thrilling.
Good thing, then, the program’s biggest joy was watching Veronica work a case, and we get plenty of that here. Bell has enough star-wattage to power a small city; when she’s in the comfortable skin of this witty, whip-smart investigator, she’s impossible to deny. Seeing her alongside fellow sleuths Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino), not to mention her true partner in crime, Colantoni, is to know true happiness. Their scenes together are the funniest, with Thomas’ knowing sense of humour still in fine form. (One key, talky sequence is amusingly revealed to have taken place at ‘Exposition Boulevard’.)
There are two ways a Veronica Mars movie could have gone down: a safe resetting of the clock that returned all our favourites to positions we feel comfortable with, and the promise of potential future stories, or, an exploding of the show entirely, in which everyone’s lives wind up on the line for the epic conclusion to a sprawling tale. This is the former. And why shouldn’t it be? Veronica Mars was paid for by the very devotees who kept pressing the paddles to the chest of this corpse until it stirred back to life. That placed constraints on the script, though maybe they’re not so different to the ones put on by a studio who want their tentpole franchise to keep spinning sequels into infinity. Ultimately, I have the same hopes, and in that way, Veronica Mars is everything we hoped for. The problem, we’re discovering, is having our dreams come true is the antithesis to drama, conflict, and everything that made the show truly great. Oh well. Veronica is back, people! Ignore everything I just wrote and luxuriate in our new reality for a moment.
Veronica Mars will be available to stream on Quickflix from March 14, 2014. It will be available on DVD from May 7.