I was hoping for more.
I was hoping that the Veronica Mars movie would spotlight the great things about the show, the core concepts that would inevitably win over a new audience. They’d see what a great character Veronica is, played with amazing ability by Kristen Bell. They’d see a father/daughter relationship unlike any on TV or in movies. They’d at least get some glimpse into the world of Neptune, a veritable microcosm of America. And they’d get some good, old fashioned, hardnosed detective work in the classic PI tradition.
I didn’t get much from my wish list, and what I did get was buried. The movie was so crammed full of unnecessary characters and scenes that nothing essential was allowed to breathe.
When the Veronica Mars movie ended, I rattled off a litany of problems I had with it. My ever patient wife, listened to my ranting, and chimed in when I said something that was more than just the ramblings of a crazy guy. She stopped me when I said this:
The Veronica Mars movie comes across as a collection of scenes that Rob Thomas has always wanted to shoot, stuck together in a movie. If the movie hadn’t been made by the guy who created the show, I’d call it fan fiction.
Not that there’s anything wrong with fan fiction per se. The problem is that fan fiction, by its very nature, is a closed circuit. It’s loaded with characters and references that only fans of the source material can understand. Moments that are supposed to have impact are dependent upon previous investment. The only way to give an outsider any kind of an opening is by explaining it all in an overt manner.
Sadly, this is what Veronica Mars has to resort to, as the exposition over the first fifteen minutes is overwhelming. This level of explanation belies a bizarre misunderstanding of either what a movie is supposed to do or what the show was about all along, because the concept of Veronica Mars is so strong that it doesn’t need so much explaining.
Think about this: the reunion serves no purpose in the movie, save for allowing Thomas to revisit a larger selection of characters from the show. All the reunion does is a) push the limits of coincidence (this murder happens just days before?) and b) makes Veronica seem like less of a detective. Don’t forget that her big break in the case comes because she gets lucky and sees a picture at the reunion. It’s information that she probably would have dug up on her own through her regular detective work, but because of the reunion, it’s handed to her, undercutting her chance to show her chops, which is what the movie should be about.
And why was Piz in the movie? In theory, it was to help establish that Veronica had a wonderful life in New York, one that’s at odds with what she left in Neptune. But, as happens repeatedly in the movie, we’re told this information, not shown it. We know Veronica has a job interview at a law firm and that she’s dating Piz (who conveniently explains to Ira Glass that they dated in college and reconnected about a year ago). But there’s nothing to show us that either a) it’s that great or b) she’s remotely invested in any of it. If we’re really supposed to feel like she’s giving something up, we need to see what that is. Again, if Piz breaking up with her means anything to anyone, it’s only because they watched the show.
But if they’re counting on our previous knowledge of the show to feel bad about what Veronica is giving up, then they’re underestimating us. Why? Because when has Veronica ever wanted to be a lawyer? She’s not giving up a dream she’s held on to since she was little. In fact, she’s giving up a career choice that was concocted solely for this movie. Those of us who have watched the show have just as little response to her giving up that job – if not less – than a brand new viewer.
And isn’t the whole “leaves her supposedly good life behind for a guy” bit far too obvious and cliché for a TV show that was rarely either?
Making Veronica a lawyer indirectly sets up a bigger issue: there are no stakes in the movie. It’s a mystery with all the drama of a weekly TV show. It’s not on the scale necessary for a feature film. It’s small potatoes, due in no small part because it’s all connected to people Veronica happens to know. It’s insular, which isn’t a good thing for a movie.
This problem could have been easily solved, though, had they given Veronica her actual dream job, the one joked about by Leo in the movie: Veronica works for the FBI. Heck, they could have kept the same basic storyline, as the death of a pop star could easily get complicated enough to involve the feds. Tie in the closeted son of a congressman and you’ve suddenly got a mystery that feels large, a story that deserves to be told.
And given that the rich and famous call Neptune their home, and that Mac, Weevil, and Wallace have all stayed in their hometown, it would be easy to bring all the familiar faces back without stretching belief beyond reason.
Here’s the other thing: FBI agents generally have partners. Suddenly, there’d be a POV character for anyone new to Veronica Mars, who could react the way a new viewer would – who could ask the questions a new viewer would need answered without it coming across as heavy handed.
But ultimately the movie isn’t about the murder mystery and, in part because of that, it isn’t really about Veronica; it’s about Veronica and Logan. And that’s all well and good, but the TV show was about her — any relationship she had was secondary to that, heck, they ranked below her relationship with her father. Veronica Mars is one of the strongest female characters we’ve ever seen on television, but became half of an equation in the movie.
And yet I can’t imagine that, if they really thought about it, Logan/Veronica fans are really happy with the movie. Because for as much as it’s about the two of them, Logan isn’t really in it. There’s just some neutered guy who looks like Logan. We’re told repeatedly about what a bad boy Logan is, how the passion between he and Veronica is like a drug, but that guy is never on screen. The fight at the reunion? Technically, it’s Wallace who starts the riot, and given they were showing a sex tape of Veronica, Logan’s actions were totally justified. Besides, Piz, Weevil, and even Dick all joined in. No, there’s no edge to this Logan. We get a squeaky clean Logan, the one who signs up for military service and acts as someone’s sponsor. Heck, he didn’t say one racist thing the entire movie!
We’re told that Veronica and Logan are “epic,” but there’s nothing in the movie to indicate that. The impact of them getting together at the end – like so much else in this movie – only resonates if you’ve seen the show.
Again, the elements that make up the core of Veronica Mars are never given ample time to unwind, to share their charms with anyone unfamiliar with the show.
The movie ends rather appropriately, not so much leaving the door open for a sequel, but setting up a new season. The status quo has returned: Veronica is a PI again, her dad will run for sheriff again, Weevil is in charge of the biker gang again, Veronica and Logan are together again. Tune in next season to see what happens!
But there is no next season, and given the quality of the movie, I’m not all that optimistic at the idea of a sequel.