So I'm a massive fan of the Veronica Mars TV show, even though, like most people, I came to it too late to contribute to the actual ratings, and watched it on Netflix after it got cancelled. It was this amazing high school detective noir, similar in tone to Rian Johnson's insanely good debut feature BRICK. I loved the cynical vibe - the fact that high school was all about date rape, infidelity, class warfare and injustice. And I loved that the heroine was genuinely smart, tough and witty, like Buffy but without all the fluffiness. Finally, just to make me extra-happy, as the show as set in a fictional town near La-La-Land, there was also a healthy dollop of satire at the expense of Hollywood, as well as a really ahead-of-its-time understanding about the impact of social media on teenage lives.
Of course, a TV show this smart was going to get canned, and arguably should've finished after series 1 anyways. Like the similarly dark (although far crazier) TWIN PEAKS it never really survived the big reveal of who killed Lily Kane/Laura Palmer. So I was a little worried about what this new kick-starter funded ten years on movie would look like? Was it going to be like friending those high school kids on Facebook years later just to see what they looked like now? Or was it actually going to have merit as a movie on its own terms?
I can't really judge the latter - what the movie feels like to someone who didn't watch the TV show. And to be sure there was a lot of fun to be had seeing how people looked and where writer/director Rob Thomas had them ten years on. Some of the problems persisted from the original. I always felt that Veronica's high school friend Wallace Fennel (Percy Daggs III) got a bad rap from the writers who didn't know what to do with him once Veronica started dating/using Logan (Jason Dohring) as a sidekick. And even in this movie, poor Wallace seems to have grown up to be a high school coach just so Veronica can get some info on current students. It was far more satisfying to see geeky IT hacker Mack (Tina Majorino) grow up to become a spiky babe, or the humour with which they still had Veronica hitting up cop Leo (Max Greenfield) for info. I also liked that they gave former biker-with-a-heart-of-gold a really politically provocative and all too believable sub-plot, which will hopefully also be the hub of a sequel.
Does the movie stand up on its own, though? The murder mystery at the heart of the film is fairly mechanical and as we don't really care about the victim in the way we came to care about Lily Kane, I guess it's not that involving. I also saw who did it as soon as we realised where their career aspirations were. Moreover, the whole Ross-Rachel aspect to the Veronica-Logan relationship felt weird and weak and a sad call for Piz (Chris Lowell) but I guess that Rob Thomas was more constrained by fan-service than most writers given the nature of his movie's funding. Still there was enough in the plot to keep me interested and provide a vessel for Veronica's and particularly Keith Mars' wit. And I would definitely watch another film? At the theatre? No. But a a kind of extended TV movie, yes. And it's too bad Netflix doesn't just fund another series.
VERONICA MARS is available to watch on demand. It has a running time of 107 minutes and is rated PG-13 in the USA and 12A in the UK for strong language, moderate violence, sex, and sex references.