Ever since it became somewhat of a historical item for being the first movie that brought established celebrities to finance their project on Kickstarter, the question surrounding Veronica Mars, the movie based on the television series of the same name that aired between 2004 and 2007, has been if it’s going to be any good. The fans, as is usually the case, were ecstatic with the idea of seeing their favorite teenage P.I. again, and on the big screen to boot. People like me, who really liked the show, but wouldn’t call themselves huge fans, were a little more concerned. I was certainly excited for it, and I found out that I wanted to see these characters again after so many years much more than I thought. But while I had a good time, I’m not even sure what to make of Veronica Mars. I’m not even sure if I can review it as a movie. Or if I can review it at all.
So, let’s stop all these rambling and get right to the chase. Veronica Mars begins with an extended narration sequence designed to get people who might not be familiar with the show up to speed with its premise. If I had to guess, I would say this sequence was mandated by the studio before releasing the film, and is the worst, most unnecessary, but also most revealing part of the film. It is an outright incompetent scene in that it is a very clunky and poorly produced montage that will make fans of the show look at their watches despite just being five or so minutes into the film. But it is revealing because after seeing the whole film, its unnecessary becomes apparent not because viewers that are unfamiliar with the show could easily get up to speed with what is going on while watching the movie, but because I think there is no way someone who has never watched the show could really enjoy the movie.
First of all, because Veronica Mars is not all that interested in crafting an especially good mystery. It isn’t bad, but it’s the kind of case you would get in an episode of the show (a good one, but still just an episode). The true pleasures of watching the movie come from seeing all the familiar faces that populated the Southern California city of Neptune come back. Some of them have outright fantastic introductions, there are a lot of really clever playing with what we know about the characters, the show, and even the actors, and the cast is completely on it and working at the top of their game. Especially Kristen Bell as the title character, and Enrico Colantoni as her P.I. father Keith Mars. They always had fantastic chemistry, and the movie is no exception. Basically, if you ever enjoyed the show, the movie will probably make you happy you spent a couple more hours with these people.
However, and this is a big however, as a movie, Veronica Mars is a mess. The first problem is, like I said, that all the pleasures that will delight longtime fans will fly completely over the heads of people who are unfamiliar with the source material. It’s basically going to be like watching one of the latter Harry Potter movies without having any idea what the story is about. As someone who is very much dislikes the Harry Potter movies, I can only imagine what a nightmare it would be if I didn’t even know what was going on in those overly self-satisfied movies. The same happens with Veronica Mars. I can’t deny that I, for the most part, enjoyed the movie, and it brings up much more complex questions about whether a movie should be able to stand out on its own. My favorite movie of last year, after all, was Before Midnight, a third film in a series that draws a lot of its power from its two predecessors. Although I wouldn’t recommend it, I think you could go straight into Before Midnight without watching Before Sunrise and Before Sunset and still have a fantastic experience. I don’t know if the same could happen with Veronica Mars.
In any case, while the movie’s hermetic view of its fans as its only audience is something that frustrates me, it’s something that I have to let go, since I’ll never be a newcomer approaching the world of Veronica Mars for the first time through the movie. Sadly, though, even without putting that into account, Veronica Mars still has some big problems. Chief among them is the fact that it feels so much like an extended episode of the show (something that was, frankly, expected), and not necessarily one of the best ones. Veronica’s voice over narration felt particularly clunky to me, and the whole first act of the movie feels very much like a long drag until things really get cracking. Once the movie gets going, you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy, but even then there are many plot-lines that come and go and resolve themselves in wholly unsatisfying or throwaway ways (without spoiling much, I’ll say I’m mainly talking about the romantic ones).
I’m not quite sure how to put this into words, but it’s as if you couldn’t approach Veronica Mars as a movie, it simply does not exist on its own. I don’t see where I could enter if I wanted to make an analysis of it. It presents itself as a gift to its fans from the very beginning. As such, it works. I have no doubt fans will walk away satisfied. But it is just two more hours with the characters. Unlike the best episodes and seasons of the show, the Veronica Mars movie won’t stick with you for long after you watch it.
Grade: 6 out of 10