Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Movie Review: Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars
Directed by: Rob Thomas.
Written by: Rob Thomas & Diane Ruggiero.
Starring: Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars), Jason Dohring (Logan Echolls), Enrico Colantoni (Keith Mars), Tina Majorino  (Cindy 'Mac' Mackenzie), Percy Daggs III (Wallace Fennel), Krysten Ritter (Gia Goodman), Gaby Hoffmann (Ruby Jetson), Chris Lowell (Stosh 'Piz' Piznarski), Francis Capra (Eli 'Weevil' Navarro), Ryan Hansen (Dick Casablancas), Martin Starr (Lou 'Cobb' Cobbler), James Franco (James Franco), Jamie Lee Curtis (Gayle Buckley), Max Greenfield (Leo D'Amato), Jerry O'Connell (Sheriff Dan Lamb), Ken Marino (Vinnie Van Lowe).

I was a casual fan of Veronica Mars – the short lived TV show about a teenage Private Eye. I watched it whenever I was around when it was on – enjoying star Kristen Bell’s whip smart comic delivery of her lines, the witty byplay between her and her father, and the noir inspired look of the show. We’ve heard a lot of shows called “cinematic” over the past few years – and Veronica Mars applies, at least visually. I was disappointed when the show was cancelled – but quickly moved on. When they announced the Kickstarter campaign last year, I didn’t donate, but I hoped it would be successful. It was – and now we have the resulting movie that all those fans paid for. I had fun with the film while I was watching it – even if it never really felt like anything more than a special two-part episode of the series set a few years in the future. That is, I suspect what the fans paid to see and I cannot conceive of someone who loved the show so much that they willing financed a film version to be disappointed in the final product. Series creator, Rob Thomas, who co-wrote and directed the movie – gave fans precisely what they wanted – and though I wish he had bowed down a little less to his rabid fan base, I cannot say I didn’t like the movie.

The movie takes place 9 years after the show ended – with Veronica Mars just having graduated law school and now interviewing at some prestigious New York law firms. She left her old life in Neptune behind – no more being a P.I., no more digging up the secrets of her corrupt hometown. Just a regular, boring life with Piz (Chris Lowell). Then she gets a call from Logan (Jason Dohring) – her ex-boyfriend, and also the boyfriend of her dead best friend from high school. And now the boyfriend of a recently murdered pop star – who also went to high school with them – where he is, of course, the main suspect. They haven’t spoken in years but he wants her help finding a lawyer she can trust – so she puts her life on hold, for only a few days she assures Piz, and heads back to Neptune for the weekend – which just so happens to be the same weekend of her 10 Year High School Reunion. What are the odds?

For the uninitiated into the world of Veronica Mars, this isn’t the place to start. I saw practically every episode when they aired – but haven’t revisited them since – and at times I felt like I missing some of the in-jokes and references that the obsessive among the viewers would eat up. I got enough them to not make me feel stupid, and not to detract from my own viewing pleasure of the film, but I know I missed things as well.

The movie has everything a fan of Veronica Mars could possibly want – a reunion with Veronica’s best friends – Mac (Tina Majorino) and Wallace (Percy Daggs III), the same witty byplay between father (Enrico Colantoni – still great), sexual chemistry between Veronica and Logan that they try futilely to resist, vast conspiracies involving the rich of Neptune, etc. The movie also – and herein lies my major problem with the film – brings back a bunch of other series regulars for no reason other than the fans would expect them to. Do we really need a subplot involving Weevil (Francis Capra) – as much as I loved his character, his subplot here feels like it was tacked on at the last minute when Thomas realized he forgot to write a role for a fan favorite. At least other supporting players – like Ken Marino’s Vinnie Van Lowe and Max Greenfield’s Leo D’Amato – are given cameos that fit in with the rest of the movie (however awkwardly). Thomas, it seems, never attempted to take Veronica Mars to the next level – never really tried to adapt it for movies, instead of television. What we get in this movie is basically television storytelling. I’m not one of those who look down on television – but I’m also not one who thinks there is no difference between TV and movies. There is a big difference between the two – not in terms of quality, but in terms of storytelling. They are different. And Thomas doesn’t attempt to really adapt his style to the movie. Something like the Weevil subplot would not seem so out of place in a TV series – where multiple plots unfold simultaneously, some wrapped up in an episode, others that stretch on for much longer. But in this movie, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Thomas obviously wanted to give the people who paid for the movie – the fans – what they wanted, and that is to include everyone they loved in the movie. It may have been better had he focused on telling the story.

A movie of this size, from an already recognizable and beloved property, completely funded by fans on Kickstarter hasn’t really been attempted before. The results, I think, are mainly a success – and should give hope to all those obsessive fans of prematurely cancelled TV shows everywhere (hey David Milch – throw a Kickstarter campaign up for a Deadwood movie – I’d donate to that). Veronica Mars – bumps and all – provides fans of the show what they want – which is the further adventures of their favorite, no longer teenage P.I. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit – enough for me to hope that perhaps a sequel can be made. I do hope that next time though, Thomas concentrates less on giving fans EVERYTHING that was in the TV show, and focus instead of a tighter, less unwieldy story that feels like it’s trying to cram too much in, simply to appease some fans. If you make a great Veronica Mars movie, no one will care if it doesn’t have every single character from the TV show shoehorned in.

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