Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Veronica Mars (2014) – Review

Review: Veronica Mars is something enjoyable for the fans of the Veronica Mars TV series, but not much else. The film finds Veronica nine years later living in New York and a law school graduate. She has moved on from her life in Neptune, California, as a teenage sleuth and is about to join a high-powered New York law firm. Her past comes crashing back into her new life, however, when she gets a call from her former boyfriend, Logan Echolls, who has been accused of murdering his pop-star girlfriend. Everyone believes he is guilty, but Veronica knows Logan is innocent and decides to come home and help him out, only to uncover a larger conspiracy.

The film plays as more or less a re-pilot of the initial series, solving its main mystery but leaving other questions lingering for future Veronica Mars installments (which I believe there are plans to pursue in some form). It never feels like a true feature film, both in its narrative and in its visual aesthetics (it basically just looks like one of the TV episodes). The narrative and character relationships also tend to rely on the audience having seen the series and knowing the characters fairly well. It is not a must, but someone new to Veronica Mars would probably miss a lot of the detail and jokes. The plot itself is self-contained however.

The film is probably most interesting because of how it came to be. Veronica Mars was a much beloved series, but only by a small group of fans. It was a great show that succeeded on having one of TV’s best protagonists. No studio would ever make this film, though, as the potential is just not there (at least in their eyes; I am still completely shocked that Universal made Serenity, although that does have greater crossover potential). Thus, the film was funded via Kickstarter. The first film to be successfully funded and produced, potentially opening the door for lots of other small projects with diehard core audiences.

Overall, Veronica Mars takes what would have been a bigger story arc on the show and condenses it into about two episodes (time wise), but leaving the door open for future installments, which is always something smart if the plan is to continue with the character. But, on the other hand, it does leave the film feeling again like just another TV pilot: an introduction to a character (or set of characters) and their world, with lots of story threads left dangling to be address in the future. The film in a sense is both self-contained and not. Yes the main story is concluded, but it feels like merely the beginning and not a full narrative, and it is dependent to a large degree on the viewer being a fan (probably a big fan) of the original series as well to fully appreciate and understand the characters and their motivations. Thus, the film exists as sort of a made-for-TV style bonus for fans of the character that they will enjoy with promises for more; but as a standalone feature film (especially for newcomers to the character) it is a fairly average crime mystery drama. As a fan of the series I did enjoy the film (it would have made a good, not great season finale), but objectively it does leave a lot to be desired when considered as a true feature film.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: The creator of Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas, co-writes and directs the film. Again, it looks pretty much like just another episode of the series aesthetically. Thomas does do a good job of giving the fans what they want while still telling a solid mystery narrative. There are lots of cameos and throwbacks to the series. And, of course, the writing is a lot of fun, filled with pop-culture references and sass. Fans will like what Thomas has made.

The cast is good overall. Many are used merely as “oh look its ____” but a few have some good moments. Returning from the series, Percy Daggs III, Tina Majorino, Krysten Ritter, Ken Marino, Ryan Hansen, and especially Enrico Colantoni are strong in smaller roles, while Martin Starr (playing off-type for a change) and Gaby Hoffmann are good too as newcomers. The main stars here, however (and of course), are Veronica Mars and Logan Echolls, played by Kristen Bell and Jason Dohring. They both hit all the right notes, bringing back everything fans loved about their characters. Although, even though nine years have passed and they have grown up a bit, they really have not changed much as characters, leading to the film’s conclusion making all the sense in the world. For Bell, Veronica is a signature role, and one that she brings to life so fantastically.

Summary & score: Veronica Mars is a film made for fans with money from fans, and thus fans will find it amusing, gratifying, and probably satisfying but those new to the character will likely be not overly enamored (and I suggest they watch the series first). 6/10

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