Last year, when Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas and series star Kristen Bell launched their Kickstarter campaign to finance a feature-length Veronica Mars film, it was the show's loyal fans who brought it back to life. I was a fan, too, but your opening lyrics encapsulated how I felt about the whole endeavor:
A long time ago, we used to be friends
But I haven't thought of you lately at all.
You were written in 2003 by alt-rockers The Dandy Warhols, and, a year later, were appropriated by Rob Thomas as the theme song for his teenage gumshoe series. With your cheeky lyrics, followed by that poppy, bubblegum hook and rhythmic clapping, you get my vote as the go-to song for every high school reunion.
And watching the Veronica Mars movie kind of feels like going to a reunion. You're excited to see all your former friends, to reminisce about the good old days. But imagine you're going to your spouse's reunion; it's a different experience entirely. You don't know anybody, the inside jokes go over your head, and you spend the night smiling wanly while waiting for it to finally be over. This film definitely falls into the former category. It's an unapologetic Veronica Mars reunion, by the fans, for the fans.
And what happens at this reunion? Nine years have passed, and Veronica is on the verge of passing the bar exam and getting hired by a big-time New York law firm. Then she gets a phone call from her bad-boy ex, Logan Echolls, the son of a movie star who, it turns out, is accused of murdering his a Lady Gaga-esque pop-star girlfriend. Despite the safety of her New York life (her current boyfriend is her college friend-zone casualty, the boring as dirt Piz) she returns to Neptune to help clear Logan's name, and, of course, falls right back into her former private investigator role.
Rob Thomas crafted the high-contrast opening sequence as Cliff Notes for the uninitiated, speeding through Veronica's history like a runaway slide projector, and the rest of the film keeps that pace. This works when the narrative is episodic, like it was on TV, but in feature-length format the tempo is draining. When you show up, you're sung by a busker in front of the NPR studio where Piz works, and I heard the audience give a warm "ahhh" in recognition. The film elicits this response many times, steadily ticking off the boxes on every fan's checklist. Logan's surfer-douche roomie Dick says something inappropriate? Check! Veronica does something illegal to gain information? Check! Veronica mentions the failed FBI pilot spin-off? Check! All this self-referential back-slapping seems a little too exclusionary for a show that took such pride in celebrating the outsider.
When fans of Firefly (that other famously underrated-then-cancelled show) made their campaign for a film, the result was Serenity, a movie that stands on its own merit, that is accessible enough for non-fans to enjoy regardless of whether they got the 'two by two, hands of blue' references. Maybe I had hoped that a movie based on a show that had been praised and loved for being so sharp would find a less obvious and more clever way to give the fans what they paid for. This effort is a tad too 'Greatest Hits Compilation' for my tastes.
Once upon a time, Veronica was popular. Then she was an outcast who battled her loneliness by righting those who had been wronged. Playing against type and being wise beyond her years made people (myself among them) fall in love with her and with the show. But part of what made our hero so endearing was that she was a kid playing dress-up in a grown-up world. Now an adult, Veronica's schtick is reminiscent of putting your favourite song on repeat: sure, it's fun for awhile, but it gets old fast.
Still friends, minus the benefits,