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Some of that old V. Mars spirit, but mostly fan service
on March 15, 2014
I don't know, guys. This movie seems kind of... bad?
I've been a big Veronica Mars fan since the first season. The series had many of the things that I prize in pop culture: a compelling female protagonist, a commitment to diversity, witty dialogue, and some clever race/gender/class analysis. The show, despite its weak third season, is way up there in quality. It demands to be experienced.
But the movie is a different beast altogether. While it retains a lot of the Veronica Mars charm, particularly in Rob Thomas's tight, funny dialogue, it may ultimately be the perfect example for why shows shouldn't try to make the jump to film. Even more surprisingly, it may make a compelling case against fan-financed filmmaking. Both of these faults are so densely intertwined that it's difficult to separate them.
This is a movie that never feels like a movie. On a basic level, the direction and the cinematography are strikingly uninspired. This is a straight up ugly film -- flat, boring, and horribly lit. You have to wonder where those millions of dollars went. I just rewatched You're Next, a film that was made for under a million dollars, and it's gorgeous in comparison. There's just no cinematic vision here. If the look and feel of the film doesn't make that clear enough, then the script really hammers it home.
I'm not sure what people wanted from their Veronica Mars film. If this movie is any indication, they wanted: a roll call of every major and minor character from the series, an overwhelming number of references to that series, and the rekindling of the Veronica/Logan romance. Those things are fine, I suppose. But as a movie, this really needed to separate itself from the series, and to move boldly forward in a more interesting direction. It needed a bigger scope.
One of the things I always loved about the show was its ability to lay out a twisty, compelling mystery. It's a basic part of the show's appeal. But the movie fails at even that. The mystery that "drives" the film (and I put drive in scare quotes because I really think it's the Veronica/Logan romance that is the film's center) feels like a sad after-thought. Logan is implicated in the murder, but comes out unscathed in the end. The mystery revolves around relatively minor characters, and the murderer and victims themselves are entirely new characters. When the truth comes to the surface, it's hard to avoid this question: Who cares? What are the stakes here? How does this change anything? How does it further the characters at all, other than to return Veronica to a comfortable status quo? Is this just an excuse to get Veronica and Logan back together?
The movie is so close to that larger scope, too. There's an interesting B-plot revolving around Veronica's father, Keith, and the growing class tensions/corruption in Neptune. This is something that seems to have actual stakes, something that gets at a major theme that was developed in the show. But Veronica is on the periphery of it. Bizarrely, it's mostly resolved by the end of the film by discrediting the Sheriff, and implying that Keith will return to the position. Again, it's the restoration of the status quo. Colantoni's performance is wonderful and subtle--his sadness, his disappointment with seeing Veronica return to Neptune and the mess it represents is one of the best parts of the film. But it's all pretty much wasted.
Look, I'm not saying that I wanted Veronica to marry Piz and return to New York to be a corporate lawyer. God no. That would've been terrible. It would be a betrayal of the series and of Veronica as a character. But the movie needed a little more self-awareness. The way Veronica casts off Piz is heartless, and the movie seems to miss that. It's in such a rush to get Veronica and Logan back together that even Keith is rooting for them by the end, more or less. And it's worth noting that throughout the film Veronica often questions herself. Why is she doing this? Why is she considering getting back with Logan? That introspection and conflict is compelling, and it's real. It's just too bad that movie mostly brushes it aside.
Again, I'm not sure what people wanted out of their Veronica Mars movie. Judging by the other ratings, this is exactly what they wanted. And that's fine. Thomas clearly felt a need to give those fans what they wanted, and he definitely succeeded. However, I think the outcome shows that this is no way to make a movie. And if it's the case that this really is just a love-letter to fans, then I think it's fair to say this isn't a movie. At best, it's an extended episode. A bad one, at that. It isn't even as good as a minor-great episode of the show, like "Ain't No Magic Mountain High Enough." At worst, it's a pandering mess. I wanted Veronica to move forward, but, like her fans, she seems stuck in the past.