Director Rob Thomas Stars Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Enrico Colantoni, Krysten Ritter USA 2014 Language English 1hr 47mins Colour
Teen noir TV series gets a big screen resurrection
Or: ‘A long time ago, we used to be friends…’
It’s as simple as this: if you are unfamiliar with Veronica Mars, the fairly short-lived US TV drama that owed an equal debt to Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer, then this film is of no possible use to you. Oh, there is a long opening montage and monologue filling in the story so far, but I suspect that is for old fans who haven’t found the time to rewatch the show before seeing the film.
But if you are a fan, this does the job splendidly. Rightly so, I guess, because the fans made this possible by stumping cash up on Kickstarter. In return, the show’s creator, Rob Thomas, has given them what presumably most of them wanted – a film that rewards loyalty, one that is rich with in-jokes both within its fictional world and about the making of the movie, his own name, the star’s apparently more ample chest… The more love you bring, the more you’ll receive, in this case at least. On its own peculiar terms, the Veronica Mars movie succeeds impressively.
In the unlikely event you’ve read this far and never watched the show, here’s what you need to know. Like Buffy, Veronica was a popular high school blonde who lost her social status* but found her soul and her calling. Veronica’s fall from grace occurred with the murder of her (very rich) best friend and her sheriff father’s politically suicidal attempts to solve the case. He was left to struggle as a private investigator and she got a taste for the family business, while replacing her elitist old chums with the new black kid in school, a female computer geek and a Latino biker. Plenty of murder, blackmail, sex crimes and political nastiness followed over three seasons – VM didn’t just nod to noir because it had an old-fashioned voiceover from our teen PI, it was a noir because it unearthed all the bad shit was happening in this starkly class-divided California town.
The other noir element, the thing that the writers struggled most with, was the show’s homme fatal, Logan Echolls, the bitterly wisecracking rich kid and frequent police suspect whom Veronica repeatedly falls for. That unshakable attraction is what starts off the movie – seven years after we last saw her, Veronica (Kristen Bell) is being interviewed for jobs at top law firms in New York. Then Logan gets arrested for the murder of his pop star girlfriend – also one of their schoolmates. That brings Veronica home, just in time for her Neptune High 10-year reunion.
Thomas makes sure that Veronica gets to meet up with as many old faces as possible as she sets off again to prove Logan innocent, despite her father, her nice-guy boyfriend Piz (Chris Lowell) and the law firm trying to get her back to New York. But where’s the fun in that?
So it looks like a TV movie, and it has a transparent crowd-pleasing agenda, but saving the day is terrific writing. Thomas does a smart job of when he brings in old characters, and how, which much of the time is very funny. There are a lot of laughs here, although not at the expense of the moodiness that was also always a component of the show.
I mentioned Ross Macdonald earlier - the class system of California is superbly explored in his novels. It’s something of an obsession for Thomas too – I think it’s series 2 of the TV series that explains in some detail about incorporation, the tactic by which wealthy American communities set themselves up as new cities, relieving themselves of fiscal responsibility for their poorer neighbours. And in the movie, topically, developers are aiming to reclaim the once rough bits of downtown, aided by the corrupt sheriff’s department. There’s a political edge here, which of course makes Veronica’s dalliances with Logan all the more of a headfuck for her.
The cast all look comfortable picking up these characters again, especially considering that the film was made in a hasty 23 days. Special praise is due to Ryan Hansen, still funny as hell as Logan’s bozo spoilt surfer dude bud Dick.
I’m not sure I liked the ending**, or the resolution to the case, and looking back, Logan is fairly passive beyond his initial call to summon Veronica – but then maybe he always was. Those are all minor grumbles, though, because the quality of Thomas’ writing means that spending time with these characters again is a real pleasure.
*Incidentally, the film makes me think of something I only half-noticed about the show: although she’s a weirdo and an outcast to her many of her peers, in her crime-solving exploits, Veronica has no doubts about attractiveness to older boys and (ahem) men (That Bell wasn’t actually a teenager, just playing one, maybe made the network OK with this). (A girl’s confidence in her effect on males of course in no ways assumes she’s comfortable as a sexual being, obviously, as the show made clear). This matches up with how several women I know remember their own teen years – people rarely fit neatly into boxes.
**SPOILER ALERT: Possibly again fan-driven, the ending reflects the TV view of character determinism, made most explicit on the Friends ‘what if?’ double episode The One That Could Have Been – ultimately, you are who you are, no matter what you try to do to change that, and you can’t escape your fate. So, ‘down these mean streets a woman must go…’