Film Review: Veronica Mars (dir by Rob Thomas)

From 2004 until 2007, there were two types of people in the world.  There were people who knew that Veronica Mars was the best show on TV and then there was everyone else.

I’m proud to say that I was a member of the former group.

Airing first on UPN and then on the CW, Veronica Mars was about a tough and tenacious private investigator who also happened to be a high school student.  Veronica (played by Kristen Bell) had once been a popular student at Neptune High until her best friend was murdered.  When Veronica’s father, who also happened to be Neptune’s sheriff, accused Lily’s wealthy and powerful father of having committed the crime, he was forced out of office and Veronica suddenly found herself transformed into a social pariah.  Veronica not only solved Lilly’s murder but several other mysteries as well while also dealing with all the other melodrama that goes along with being a teenage girl.

Veronica Mars never got the ratings that it deserved and it ultimately suffered the humiliating fate of being canceled after three seasons and replaced by a reality series called Pussycat Dolls Presents.  But those of us who watched and loved the show knew that it was something special.  The show’s creator, Rob Thomas, took two genres that one would normally not think to combine — pulpy mystery and teenage soap opera — and used them to create something totally unique and always watchable.  At the center of it all was Kristen Bell’s wonderfully intelligent and snarky performance as Veronica Mars.  Veronica was the type of strong and intelligent character that we all wanted to be.  By watching her, her strength became our strength.

Those of us who loved the show knew that it was special but we also knew that it was something that only we would truly appreciate.  Even as we watched the show, we knew that it was too smart and too quirky to ever be truly appreciated by the type of audiences that embraced shows like JAG or According to Jim.  Perhaps that’s why I was always thankful for every episode of Veronica Mars, even the ones that made up the show’s much maligned third season.  I would watch Veronica and I would appreciate her strength and her humor and I would be jealous of the wonderful relationship she had with her Dad and, in the back of my mind, I always knew that the show would eventually be gone so I had to enjoy while I could.

From the moment that Veronica Mars was canceled, there were rumors that Veronica would eventually return in a feature film that would tie up all of the loose ends left over from the show’s cancellation.  On March 13th, 2013, Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell launched a kickstarter campaign to raise two million dollars to help get that film made.  Reaction was, to put it lightly, enthusiastic as fans of the show donated what they could to bring Veronica to the big screen.  I even talked two friends of mine into donating a hundred dollars each.  Neither one of them had ever seen the show but they both said that my heartfelt pleading won them over.  It took 10 hours for the Kickstarter campaign to reach its goal.  By the time it ended, over 5 million dollars had been raised.

And now, a little over a year since that historic kickstarter campaign was launched, the Veronica Mars movie has been released.  Much as the way the movie was funded made history, the movie itself is making history by being the first major studio film to be concurrently released in theaters and made available via video on demand.

Now, I know what some of you are saying: That’s all great, Lisa, but can you just tell us whether the movie’s any good?

Well, I’m getting there.  There’s a reason why I began this review with nearly 600 words about Veronica Mars the television series.  How you will react the movie will probably greatly depend on how you felt about the original series.  For those who were not fans or who never got around to watching the television series, Veronica Mars the movie will probably feel like a rather standard mystery that’s distinguished by a strong lead performance from Kristen Bell.  However, for those of us who loved the television show, Veronica Mars the movie is the perfect late Valentine’s Day gift.

Opening nine years after the end of the series, the movie wastes no time in getting us caught up with what Veronica’s life.  Veronica has left Neptune and all of her old friends.  She’s moved to New York City, she has a stable relationship with Piz (Chris Lowell), and she’s just been offered a job with a prestigious law firm.  While talking to her potential boss (played by Jamie Lee Curtis), Veronica casually dismisses both her former life as a private investigator and the third season’s infamous sex tape.

However, when her ex-boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring) is accused of murdering his girlfriend, Veronica returns to Neptune.  Though she originally says that she’s only interested in helping Logan find a good lawyer and maybe attending her high school reunion, Veronica soon finds herself falling into her old habits.

Admittedly, the film’s central mystery isn’t that compelling, especially when compared to the first season mystery of who killed Lilly Kane.  As opposed to the show — where a mystery would be investigated over several episodes — the Veronica Mars movie only has 107 minutes to reveal why Logan’s girlfriend was killed and by who.

But that’s okay because, quite frankly, the movie’s target audience isn’t watching for the mystery.  We’re watching because we want to see how familiar characters like Veronica and Logan are doing.  We want to see how the past nine years have changed them.  This is where director Rob Thomas triumphs.  All of the show’s characters have returned.  Realistically, some of them have matured while some of them have definitely not.  Some of them only show up for cameos while others are central to solving the mystery but what’s important is that all of them are there.  That includes Keith Mars who, as played by Enrico Colantoni, remains one of the greatest father figures ever.

(Also back: Ryan Hansen’s wonderfully obnoxious Dick Casablancas.  I’m always happy for any chance to look at and appreciate Ryan Hansen.)

I enjoyed Veronica Mars and I was especially happy to see that its final scene contained the perfect set up for another film.  If you’re not familiar with the television series, I would suggest watching binge-watching all 64 episodes before watching the movie.  Seriously, you won’t be sorry.  You’ll get to watch one of the best (and most underappreciated) shows of all time and then you’ll be perfectly set up to enjoy one of the most entertaining films released in 2014 so far.

Finally, on a personal note, there’s no way I can’t mention the fact that my celebrity boyfriend, James Franco, appears, in an extended cameo, as himself.  Whether he’s flopping about while trying to fit into a pair of skinny jeans or trying to think of a word that rhymes with orange, James Franco is never less than adorable.  Every film should have a James Franco cameo.

Hopefully, he’ll return for Veronica Mars 2.