This isn’t a film review blog, but we’re making an exception. Because LoVe. (Also, this review is epic.)
Warning: There are spoilers in this review, so if you’re a fan, it’s probably better to watch the film first.
I discovered Veronica Mars (JB | iTunes | Amazon), a ‘teen noir’ TV series featuring a teen private investigator played by Kristen Bell, through the romance community. The first episode, which deals with local gangs, school bullying, police corruption, sexual assault and the tension between haves and have-nots, drew me into the series. By the time I got to Veronica and Logan’s epic love story, I had become a Marshmallow.
If you haven’t seen this series, you might have heard of it through its record-breaking Kickstarter appeal to raise funds for a film project. It took 11 hours to meet the Kickstarter goal of $2m, and the final pledge more than doubled that amount. I discovered the series too late to be a backer, but by the time the film came out on March 14 (one year after the launch of the Kickstarter campaign; in comparison, I backed the Lizzie Bennet Diaries campaign, and it’s been almost a year and I still don’t have my DVDs), I was a die-hard fan. This is a film made for fans, requiring extraordinary levels of participation from cast and crew. Its Kickstarter beginning gives the entire project a bit of a school fete atmosphere—fun, exhausting, infinitely satisfying, but a little sad when the adrenaline fades and it’s time to finally pack up and go home.
Veronica Mars is set nine years after the end of season 3 of the TV series. The audience is immediately given a two-minute voiceover that establishes the backstory, so it’s not necessary to have watched the TV series to follow the plot of the film, but it definitely helps. (You can find a quick cheat sheet here, but it also has minor spoilers.) In the film we meet a more mature Veronica, who is six weeks away from taking the bar exam and is in the running for a graduate job at a prestigious law firm in New York. She’s with nice guy boyfriend Piz and hasn’t taken a private case in nine years. But when ex-boyfriend Logan Echolls’s celebrity girlfriend, Bonnie de Ville is murdered, he calls Veronica for help and she agrees to come home, ostensibly to help him find a reputable lawyer. But every time she tries to return to New York, Veronica uncovers more clues around Bonnie’s death and can’t bring herself not to keep pursuing the case, to the detriment of her job prospects and her increasingly strained relationship with Piz.
The structure of the film is more straightforward, and the plot is less ambitious than the series. Writers Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero give it a decent run, but they know the audience is after one thing only: to see how the Logan/Veronica love story is resolved. Josh Kramon’s score gives the film a brooding quality that evokes the style of the original, but the film is missing the darker sexual overtones of the TV series, sex tapes notwithstanding, and this gives the film a slightly different tone. Part of teenage Veronica’s appeal was the defiance with which she exercised her agency in a high school and community filled with the demands and prejudices of other people. Film Veronica is largely independent, and having the character all grown up loses some of the charm of the original.
Meanwhile, the corruption and class politics in Neptune has escalated since the TV series. Dan Lamb is a more odious, more menacing and less subtle town sheriff than younger brother Don, who died in season 3 of the series. This aspect of the community, which was always well integrated in the TV series, mostly runs through a secondary plot which isn’t fully resolved by the end of the film. This provides the noir-ish edge to the film—it would be perfect for a graphic novel adaptation—but makes for frustrating viewing. There just isn’t enough screen time to explore class politics as thoroughly. Nevertheless, characters die in this film, and they do so suddenly and shockingly. (I like to think this is a nod to Joss Whedon.)
Who’s back from Neptune High?
Veronica’s relationships were a large part of the appeal of the TV series. While it’s fabulous to see her best friends Wallace and Mac again, they’re almost an afterthought in the plot. Wallace, in particular, is severely underutilised, although the scene where Veronica asks him for a favour is a fabulous fan-pleaser. Mac is more polished and poised than her teenage counterpart, not to mention wildly successful. (She now works for Kane software, so expect this to factor more prominently in the tie-in books.)
We learn that Eli ‘Weevil’ Navarro is on the straight and narrow, with a wife and a daughter, and his own auto shop. I don’t understand why Veronica hasn’t kept in touch with Weevil, but their reunion is lovely so I don’t hold it against the writers. But Weevil can’t escape his past, and his well-meaning attempt to help a stranded motorist surrounded by a bicycle gang lands him in serious trouble. Weevil’s story provides an open-ended plot for the tie-in books, the first of which, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Booktopia | Amazon | TBD | Audible), will be released on March 25. The second book should be out by the end of the year.
Gia Goodman, daughter of the pedophile mayor played by Steve Guttenberg in season 2, plays a pivotal role in the mystery plot. She’s now engaged to Luke Haldeman, the guy who tried to smuggle steroids from Tijuana in a piñata in season 1. Krysten Ritter reprises her role fabulously, retaining the somewhat scatty spirit of her character from the TV series and adding a darker, more cynical undertone that suits the spirit of the film.
Bonnie de Ville, Logan’s murdered ex, is the stage name of Carrie Bishop, who featured in season 1 of the TV series as the girl who accused her history teacher of getting her pregnant, and general school gossipmonger. Leighton Meester was unavailable for the film, and the role is played by Andrea Estrella. Meester’s Carrie Bishop was one of my favourite minor characters in the series and her interactions with Veronica were always so filled with sass and sly bitchiness—requiring nothing more than a raised eyebrow—which I loved. Unfortunately, Estrella lacks Meester’s charm or presence; she blends into the background of the story and is fairly unremarkable.
While in Neptune, Veronica is roped into attending Neptune High’s ten-year reunion, providing the perfect excuse for numerous cameos from some of my favourite minor characters, including: Sean, the butler’s son who stole Weevil’s poker winnings; Corny, the stoner; and Principal Clemmons. It also provides ample opportunity to feature the film’s Kickstarter backers as extras, and it’s a joy to see fan cameos, not just in these scenes, but throughout the film. These are loyal fans whose generous donations helped get the film off the ground, and their happy, excited faces on screen just made me smile.
Unfortunately, the reunion is a relatively self-contained event, and while it was fun to see where everyone was up to, not to mention the way in which Veronica confronts her high school nemesis Madison Sinclair, many of these characters serve no other purpose in the plot. And just as notable are the interesting characters who don’t appear in the film, including: Wallace’s mother and Keith’s ex-girlfriend Alicia; Wallace’s ex-girlfriend Jackie; Casey, the rich boy who joined a hippie commune; Mandy, the girl whose dog went missing and who had a bit of a crush on Veronica; Hamilton Cho, the boy who had to forgo an academic scholarship when his dad was discovered harassing Hamilton’s rival; Carmen Ruiz and her sleazy ex-boyfriend Tad, who sent out a video of her sucking on a popsicle at Shelly Pomroy’s party; Justin Smith, the boy who worked at a DVD store and discovered that his dad is a woman; Hannah, Logan’s ex-girlfriend; Molly Fitzpatrick, Felix’s girlfriend; and Caitlin Ford, Logan’s ex-girlfriend played by Paris Hilton.
(The film also features celebrity cameos, including Ira Glass, host of popular radio show This American Life, James Franco in a hilarious parody of himself, and Bell’s husband, Dax Shepard, in an over-the-top scene that would be completely ridiculous for anyone who doesn’t get the connection.)
Show jester Dick Casablancas gets a prominent role, and Ryan Hansen keeps Dick charmingly offensive. I’m still surprised at how much I love this character even though he has so few redeeming qualities. Dick’s lines generated the most laughs from the audience:
Veronica: Words With Friends?
Dick: Some people just call it texting.
Veronica: I wanna ask you about the night Susan Knight died.
Dick: ‘Course, you do. It’s a party!
And yes, this film is funny. Some of the humour could have been more subtle, and I remain puzzled by the penis humour while Veronica is waiting to be interviewed, and the few seconds spent focusing on two men making lewd gestures behind Madison Sinclair at the reunion. But generally, the dialogue is witty and fun, and even though new audiences won’t get a lot of the self-referential jokes, they’re little treasures for fans to savour.
References to events in the TV series are littered throughout the film, which has a tendency to slow down the pace—I thought some of the transition scenes could have been replaced with a little more plot. Despite this, there are noticeable gaps between the end of season 3 and the film. For example, it’s unclear how Veronica chose to use the information she got from decrypting Jake Kane’s hard drive, and the consequences for Logan of bashing up a guy with links to the Russian mob. There’s also still no closure on what I consider one of the most heartbreaking twists in Veronica’s world: Mac’s relationship with her family.
Veronica and Keith
Veronica Mars wouldn’t be the same without dad Keith. This father/daughter relationship was one of the best things about the show. Enrico Colantoni’s face when his character realises Veronica is home brought joy to my heart, and his concern when he realises that she’s back because of Logan is both amusing and slightly heartbreaking. This is a nuanced relationship. On one hand, he’ll never be not be her dad:
Keith: Did Veronica not show you our fine selection of couches? That baby folds out. The walls here are thin.
Veronica: But our tantric lovemaking is remarkable for its stillness and tranquility.
Piz: She passed out. Nothing happened. I’m gonna go get my cab.
but he respects Veronica’s agency. Colantoni is an older, wearier Keith, and while he remains Veronica’s bigger supporter, his disappointment is palpable when Veronica makes decisions that he disagrees with.
The heart of this movie is the relationship between Veronica and Logan, and from the moment Logan appears on screen—to audible gasps from the audience—fans will be in a state of heightened tension that doesn’t let up until the end, and possibly not even then. Go Captain and Pinlighter by Emperor X lends a surreal, melancholy feel to their first meeting and, honestly, I was thrilled to such a pitch I thought I would vomit. Director Rob Thomas knows exactly what fans want to happen with this couple, and he shamelessly exploits it, to my utter delight. Theirs is an excruciatingly awkward reunion, but Logan’s refusal to take bullshit and Veronica’s sass shine through, though tempered by age. Logan is less incendiary now, and Veronica is more honest with her emotions. This love story had the potential to become extremely cheesy and sentimental, but it lives up to my epic expectations.
Jason Dohring’s older Logan is a more pensive character who seems weighed down by the decisions he’s made in his life; he’s a slow smoulder rather than a passionate explosion of emotion…and I kind of miss the explosion. (I also miss the shell necklace.) There’s not enough time to explore Logan’s backstory in the film, so the romance depends heavily on the audience’s emotional investment on the TV series; I’m hoping this is fleshed out in the tie-in books. There were gasps from the audience each time Logan is framed in shameless poses designed for maximum heart throbbing. The scene where Veronica and Logan drive across the bridge in Logan’s convertible, to the angsty strains of Chicago by Sufjan Stevens, is absolutely thrilling with its illicit, knowing glances and repressed lust. (I’m getting heart palpitations just thinking about it.)
The acting is, as expected, exceptional—Dohring can do so much with even just the most subtle shifts of his face or body, and he adapts many of Logan’s boyish mannerisms into this more mature character. And yet there’s something bittersweet and fragile about their reunion. The chemistry between Bell and Dohring, though no less compelling, has changed; Logan is now the more restrained character, and the reversal of their dynamic is as unsettling as it is exciting.
Logan: Do you need a ride to the airport?
Veronica: I promised that to my dad.
Logan: I guess this is it.
Veronica: We should take the long way home.
Veronica continually compares her feels for Logan to addiction, which is amusing at first but quickly starts to feel a little emotionally dishonest. I wanted her to understand why she’s drawn to Logan—the aspects of his personality that call to her—and not feel like she’s in a destructive pattern. And even though I’ll never complain about seeing Veronica and Logan together, the focus of the film on their love story is at the detriment of Veronica’s other relationships in terms of screen time.
Edited to add: The final LoVe scene provides the most surprising bit of retroactive continuity to season 2. In the TV series, Logan gave his ‘Our love is epic’ speech while drunk and seemed not to remember it the next day. Of course, Veronica could have recounted the words to him when they’re back with each other in season 3, but I like to think that Logan really did remember what he said, and that his shifty reaction the next day was because he knew he had missed another chance with Veronica. The retcon in the film makes that scene in season 2 all the more delicious and oh, so painful.
It’s not clear how Veronica ends up back with Piz, but they reunite a year before the start of the film. This is really the best way to incorporate Piz into the story, and it rounds off Veronica’s story by punctuating the differences between her life in New York and her life back in Neptune.
Despite being firmly Team Logan, I found Piz’s storyline incredibly sad, in no small way due to Chris Lowell, who is phenomenal in the role. What he can inflect with minimal dialogue makes for a more nuanced character than we saw in the TV series: ‘Give Logan my best. Tell him I’ve gotten totally used to the loose fragments floating around in my orbital socket.’ Lowell retains Piz’s good guy charm and introduces a subtle cynicism that makes his rivalry with Logan feel a lot sharper than before. Still, I would have preferred he stayed friends with Veronica, although he was forever girlfriend-zoning her in the TV series, so perhaps that was never in the cards.
Leo is my favourite of Veronica’s non-Logan boyfriends, and he makes a brief but very memorable appearance in the film—my vote for best cameo. His charm still leaps off the screen. It’s inexplicable, but it’s also undeniable. It was wonderful to see him get a little bit of his own back with Veronica.
While I enjoyed the nod to the show’s history when Veronica unearths her old PI equipment, and she tries to convince herself that her investigation of Carrie Bishop’s death is ‘a one-time deal, a farewell tour’, I would have preferred her to stamp a new style that reflects her grown up self.
As soon as I read reviews calling this the film that the fans deserved, it wasn’t difficult to guess which way the love story would fall. But I wasn’t prepared for Veronica deciding to stay in Neptune, and the ending sits uncomfortably with me. Mostly, I felt for Keith, who as the movie progresses looks more and more like someone who feels he has failed his daughter. Veronica going back to her old life seems like a huge step backwards, and the film doesn’t make for a convincing case otherwise.
Yay or nay?
Veronica Mars is amazing, not because it’s the best film I’ve ever seen, but because of the way the project was able to deliver what fans have been hoping for, given its relatively limited resources. Despite getting the ending we so desperately longed for, there’s a lingering sadness that this is probably now a closed chapter in the Veronica Mars story. The very closure that Rob Thomas delivers makes it unlikely that we’ll get a film sequel, and I’m going to miss the amazing experience this cast and crew have brought to my life. It’s a bittersweet joy.
Who might enjoy it: Marshmallows
Who might not enjoy it: Team Piz
Title: Veronica Mars
Director: Rob Thomas
Distributor: Warner Bros