The “Veronica Mars” movie was funded by and written for the fans, and you can tell. Its dedication to its fans should be celebrated, and its ability to additionally please newcomers admired. Cancelled in 2007, the neo-noir television show revolves around teenage outcast and part-time private investigator Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), who attempts to simultaneously solve her best friend’s murder and her own rape. Set in the fictional Neptune, California, “Veronica Mars” is known for its cast of idiosyncratic characters (think a sinister version of the Stars Hollow residents in “Gilmore Girls”), its snappy dialogue, and its propensity for exploring darker themes than those included on other shows aimed at teenage audiences. The show amassed an extremely dedicated, if concentrated, fan base during its three season run. I saw the film in Leicester Square on the day of release and most of the audience (including myself) varied between these two Kristen Bell-esque reactions…
Fans of “Veronica Mars”, dubbed ‘marshmallows’, funded the film version out of their own pockets. The 2013 Kickstarter fundraiser, started by creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell, became the most backed campaign in Kickstarter history. 91,585 donors raised $5,702,153 (being a pauper I generously donated $1) and subsequently brought the show back to life, albeit in a different form, six years after the CW killed it. Perhaps for this reason, the film serves more as a love letter to the fans than anything else. It almost reads as a tangible reflection of a fan’s daydreams. It’s an exercise in wish-fulfillment, a canonization of all fans’ hopes, and a big thank you to the cash cows. The inclusion of fan-favourite “Veronica Mars” catchphrases (‘Who’s your daddy?’), the allusions to fan-favourite moments (‘Our story is epic’), and randomly but hilariously placed familiar faces (Celeste Kane in the car with the revolver), mean the film is a veritable amusement park of knowing self-references for the perceptive fan.
This reverence for fan enjoyment and engagement is no flaw, and to take into account the hopes of viewers does not impede artistic integrity. As Kristen Bell says:
‘I would want to know what the fans want, to be honest. I don’t say that insincerely. As an artist, you want to do things that your audience likes and wants and appreciates and gets excited about.’
Despite this warranted pandering to the fans, screenwriter Rob Thomas somehow also manages to produce a film which is both coherent in its own right and entertaining to the casual observer. Despite its constant throwbacks and homages to the show, and its generally self-reflexive nature, I can’t imagine it would alienate new viewers; its plot is self-contained and cohesive. The film also serves as more than an elongated episode, instead taking the opportunity to deepen and enrich elements explored during the show’s initial run using the larger medium of film. Just as Joss Whedon used film when adapting “Serenity” from his TV series “Firefly” to widen his creative scope, Thomas scales up his show to match the new film format. The incompetence and the sinister nature of the sheriff’s department in the show, for example, is replaced by full-scale corruption in the film. Weevil’s cinematic arc in his return to gang warfare after cleaning up his life and becoming the target of the aforementioned corruption feels both inexorable and iniquitous. The film also benefits from a plethora of celebrity cameos and bit parts: James Franco, Martin Starr, Justin Long, Gaby Hoffman, Dax Shepard, Jamie Lee Curtis and Ira Glass all make appearances. This seems fitting, as the show is now retrospectively hilarious due to the unexpected guest stars that pop up (Paris Hilton on a pink moped, Adam Scott as a lecherous teacher, and Kevin Smith as a store clerk, to name but a few).
The film occasionally fails to be quite as quippy as its small-screen counterpart, the adult Veronica’s put-downs lacking the impudence and wit of her teenage incarnation. Yet the important thing is that even after seven years away from Neptune, these feel like the same characters to the viewer, and it feels like the film is occupying the same fictional universe. Neptune is even more ominous and characters have aged but everything is still recognizable after a little reacquainting. Kristen Bell steps back into Veronica’s sleuthing shoes so easily that it seems she’s never stepped out of them.
‘My nerves were high jumping back into it, but within 10 minutes I realized she lives in my skin for some reason,’ Bell said. ‘There’s something magical about playing this part and I love it.’
Veronica’s relationship with her father, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), a core element of the show, features prominently in the film and Keith’s near-death experience provides a highly emotional moment. I think, however, that many fans would agree that the passionate love-hate relationship between Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) and Veronica was the crux of the show, and the way in which their romance was left on the rocks and in doubt provided a major impetus for the campaign to continue Veronica’s story on screen. Fans didn’t just want a LoVe reunion; they expected it. Yet despite almost being a mandatory requirement for fan approval of the film, their reconciliation didn’t feel labored. Veronica is immediately presented living in New York content but spiritless, and upon her return to Neptune, and Logan, reanimated. Logan has always been characterized as the classic bad boy, and the youthfully passionate but ultimately undependable and dangerous romantic choice for Veronica. I’m glad that Thomas chose to slightly soften Logan’s edge with age, bringing to the forefront his inherently good qualities and presenting him instead as a ‘stabilizing influence’ on those around him, while still retaining his interior intensity. Changes in their characters thus meant their reunion was inevitable – and not only because fans would have stormed Thomas’ house with pitchforks if it didn’t occur.
The show never avoided darkness and its season-long murder mystery arcs in seasons one and two were painstakingly plotted. If the central mystery in the film is less intricate and the revelations and payoff less invigorating, it is due only to necessary time constraints. In general, though, the mystery is well constructed if not complex, and it feels fitting that it involves so many familiar faces. To incorporate so many old characters and to center the mystery upon the ten year Neptune High reunion is clearly a plot contrivance, but a necessary one which is executed unaffectedly. Rob Thomas had an exceptionally difficult task in concurrently pulling together existing loose threads, filling in the nine year gap, introducing a self-supporting plot, and pleasing those fans who filled the producers’ piggy bank with pennies. The man deserves a medal for managing this feat, and all within a trim running time.
“Veronica Mars” was successful because anyone who ever felt like an outsider could identify with the main character’s societal exclusion while finding her sassiness and chutzpah in the face of such adversity aspirational. The show is effectively an anthem for exiles and that’s what makes the communal experience of watching the film so special.
‘I convinced myself winning meant getting out, but in what world do you get to leave the ring and declare victory? This is where I belong, in the fight; it’s who I am. I’ve rolled around in the mud for so long, wash me clean, and I don’t recognize myself.’
If this is how the “Veronica Mars” franchise is concluded we should be grateful. The film leaves Veronica in Neptune with the knowledge that she’s turned her back on the New York life that bores her to death. She’ll still be doing what she does best, kicking ass and taking names, fighting fraudulence, her relationship with Logan resuscitated if not tied up with a big bow. But the marshmallows should clearly never be underestimated, so don’t be surprised if we see Veronica again in some form…