Bonus Film Review: “Veronica Mars” Is Smarter Than Me
As was reported in many places (including this blog), the movie version of Veronica Mars made history last year by taking to Kickstarter for funding and breaking records. Over the weekend, I stopped in to see the film, and given my love for the show, what else was I going to do? If you kicked in $25, congratulations! You’re one of the movie’s producers, and I’m happy to report that you made a good investment.
The story picks up nine years after the end of the TV series, as the now 28-year-old Veronica (Kristen Bell) is a Stanford law graduate with a psych degree who’s about to embark on a career as a corporate lawyer in New York while dating her college boyfriend Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell). However, she’s called back to her hometown of Neptune, Calif., when her ex and troubled Hollywood princeling Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) is charged with the murder of his pop-star ex-girlfriend (Andrea Estella).
Somehow, the movie manages to squeeze in everything us fans loved about the TV show. Veronica’s relationship with her beloved dad (Enrico Colantoni) is deepened, as he begs her to marry the nice guy and not stick around Neptune while her old attraction to Logan and her love of solving mysteries pull on her. The show’s wisecracks are back: Her dad complains about her sleeping in the same bed with Piz in his house, “The walls are thin!” She fires back, “But our tantric lovemaking is remarkable for its stillness and tranquility!” Veronica’s delightful talent for impersonating other people comes into play, as she poses as a Latina newscaster over the phone to get information from Neptune’s sleazy new sheriff (Jerry O’Connell). One thing I always loved about Veronica was her precise knowledge of the ways in which people underestimate women, and her ability to use that. On the TV show, she’d gleefully make herself look weak, stupid, or hysterical to get people to give up information. This might not be so much of an option going forward, if she’s going to be in constant contact with people who know what she’s capable of.
The whole cast looks pleased to be back in their old roles. When I started watching the show, it was my first real look at Kristen Bell, but having now seen her in a variety of roles, I’ve noticed this: She’s a naturally sunny actress, so she really shouldn’t fit the part of someone as hard-bitten and cynical as Veronica. Yet that’s part of the character’s charm, that she keeps a chipper attitude despite all the pain she has been through. A lead actress like Aubrey Plaza would have been a more natural pick, but we probably wouldn’t be rooting as much for Veronica if she were played by someone who wears her disaffection on her sleeve that way. (If you really want to see the contrast between these two actors, check out the scene Bell and Plaza play together in Safety Not Guaranteed. It’s hard to believe these two are members of the same species.)
The murder plot is done fairly well, though since the pop-singer character showed up in the TV series as a girl played by Leighton Meester, I’m seriously bummed that the filmmakers couldn’t get Meester to return. (Especially since Meester can actually sing rather well.) It does sort of rob the victim of her identity. Then again, I’m having trouble imagining the character from the TV show turning into the drug-addled thrill-seeker that the pop singer was supposed to be.
In addition to all the old characters, the movie picks up a new one in a crazed fan who was stalking the singer. In the role, Gaby Hoffmann gives the whole affair a good stiff jolt. I also approve of giving Krysten Ritter more to do as Gia Goodman, the surreally stupid classmate of Veronica’s who plays a key part in the murder, though I don’t approve of the way the character winds up (in a climactic scene that’s cribbed from the Coen brothers’ first movie). Because James Franco’s goal is to be in every movie for two minutes doing something weird, he turns up here as himself, giving Veronica a clue and trying desperately to find a word that rhymes with “orange.” And we do get Max Greenfield (Schmidt from New Girl!) returning as the deputy whom Veronica used to flirt with, now a San Diego homicide cop, but still flirty.
Then there’s the side issue of Neptune’s class war deepening, which I’m guessing will be the foundation of the next Veronica Mars story, whether it’s another movie or a book. Neptune, which was not exactly paradise when Veronica left, has since gone to hell, with a corrupt police department using a stop-and-frisk policy and framing poor folks for crimes in a concerted effort to drive out the underclass so only the rich people will be left. One of the framed turns out to be Veronica ally and former gangster Eli “Weevil” Navarro (Francis Capra III). A jittery white motorist mistakes him for a criminal and shoots him (don’t worry, Weevil fans, he doesn’t die), but when the identity of the motorist was revealed, I gasped out loud. I won’t spoil this bit, but I will say you need to have seen the show to fully appreciate it.
Fans of the show like me will be glad to see other return appearances from Deputy Sacks (Brandon Hillock), Principal Clemmons (Duane Daniels), shyster lawyer Cliff (Daran Norris), and Veronica’s high-school enemy Madison Sinclair (Amanda Noret), if for no other reason than to see Veronica finally punch her in the face. Still, you don’t have to have seen the show to appreciate the chemistry between Bell and Dohring, or between Bell and the actors who play Veronica’s truest friends Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino). The two of them stop by Veronica’s house (sporting much different hairstyles) when they hear she’s back in town, and the banter between the three actors is as well-honed as it was back in 2004.
The look of this thing is interesting. The movie is directed by Rob Thomas, who also created the TV show. He made use of heavy dramatic shadows on the program because he wanted the show to look like classic film-noir thrillers. However, he also filmed scenes in full sunlight to capture the seaside southern California vibe. I found the look of this film to be somewhat washed out. I wonder if something got lost in translation when he and his team were working on the big screen.
Anyway, Slate compiled a video detailing the influence of the Coen brothers on Veronica Mars, as well as a segment on the movie’s expert tech usage. The script contains shout-outs to the rock musician Rob Thomas and the failed gambit about Veronica joining the FBI that the showrunner filmed when trying unsuccessfully to save the show from cancellation. Also, some users who tried to buy the movie on VOD had problems and might get their money back. What did you think of Veronica’s movie adventure? Is anyone else excited at the prospect of Veronica and Mac working together professionally, as the movie’s end hints at? What other characters from the show should be brought back in the future? (I vote for Julie Gonzalo’s Parker, the rape victim who ended up saving Veronica from being raped by the same attacker in Season 3.) I know you saw the movie, too, fellow marshmallows, so share your thoughts.