Jace: Ah, Veronica Mars. A long time ago, we used to be friends… And I’m honestly happy that the former teenage sleuth is back in the Veronica Mars feature film, which I quite enjoyed. Yes, I’m one of those people who has watched all three season of the UPN-CW drama several times over, and that may have played a role in my feelings about the film. But I feel like, while you loved the show, you didn’t feel the same way about the film?
Kate: Yes, I loved the show — or at least the first season, which I thought was close to perfect. After that, I found it sporadically great, with Kristen Bell being wonderful throughout, but the plots and her supporting cast hit-or-miss. (Season 3 was almost all miss, sadly.) As for the movie, I wanted to love it! And there were a few moments when I was transported and delighted, mostly, of course, because of Bell, who has worked steadily but hasn’t yet equalled her Veronica Mars heights. I just thought it all felt so… small. I had other problems with it, but let’s leave it at that for now. What did you like about it?
Jace: Well, I’ll be honest and say that the third season of Veronica Mars was… not very good. But those first two seasons — which had really taut, byzantine mysteries — felt closer in spirit to the film, which offers some genuinely surprising twists and callbacks. But the false note that the show ended on doesn’t diminish the pleasure that comes from catching up with Bell’s Veronica and the rest of the characters in the film, such as Tina Majorino’s Mac, Ryan Hansen’s Dick, and Krysten Ritter’s Gia. Yes, the movie is a bit of fan service (given that it was, well, entirely funded by the fans) and it certainly plays that way, even with the recap at the beginning designed to catch non-viewers up. (Are non-viewers going to see this movie? I doubt it.) And the film does offer a really fascinating look at how these characters have grown and changed in the time since the show concluded… though Neptune seems just as trapped in its noir-tinged class warfare as before.
Kate: Before I criticize it, I want to say a few things I really liked about the movie. Have I mentioned Bell? Bell. Bell’s a ringing, Bell on wheels, Bell and whistles, etc. Her delivery is sharp, and she punctuates everything she says with wit (but not wink), intelligence, and when the scene calls for it, a deep sadness. If only Rob Thomas — who created Veronica Mars and is responsible for its excellence, but has never directed a film before — didn’t squash so many of her jokes with his clunky directing. But back to the praise! Bell and her co-star Jason Dohring, as Logan, still have chemistry, both romantically and by being able to throw ping-pong-fast dialogue at each other. Gaby Hoffmann and James Franco (playing himself) both have inventive little arcs. I also liked the continued menace in Neptune; and I liked the sense that the characters, whom we haven’t seen for years, really have progressed in their lives — they’re all kind of different now, imperceptibly but actually. But, Jace, didn’t seeing the gang back together make you a little sad about the gang? The ensemble was fine for TV, but in a movie, I just got kind of depressed watching the Piz and Wallace of it all.
Jace: I’ll agree with that: The Piz and Wallace of it all was depressing, in a way. I have nothing personally against Chris Lowell or Percy Daggs III, but if you compare their on-screen presence to that of Bell or Dohring, you can see the inequalities at play in a way. Just look at the dynamic between between Bell and Lowell and then compare it to the sizzle that happens every time Veronica and Logan are in a room together. But that’s also an issue with how Piz as a character has been constructed and presented. He’s not the most exciting choice — he’s the safest choice. And I’ll agree that there’s an almost haphazard quality to the direction; at times the film seems to lag a little, but then individual scenes are themselves devoid of air. There’s a deft sharpness to the dialogue and delivery (again, especially Bell’s) that, yes, does get lost at times.
Kate: I feel like I’m going to be able to convince you that this movie isn’t very good. And maybe isn’t even a movie! Which is actually my biggest feeling after having seen it.
Jace: Wait, wait, wait. How is this not a movie? It has a distinct narrative arc that focuses not only on Veronica but on the other Neptune-based characters; there’s a mystery that progresses through a beginning, middle, and an end. (A rather interesting mystery, it ought to be said.) While that whodunit is rather shortform compared to, say, those within Season 1 and 2 of Veronica Mars, it’s a whodunit nonetheless, with the discovery of a crime (one with a connection to Veronica), multiple suspects, an investigation, and a resolution. And the film itself offers an ending of sorts (or a new beginning?) for the titular character, who returns to spelunk amid the noir underpinnings of the show. And, while imperfect, I quite liked the film!
Kate: The mystery is fine. Like, it’s OK. But it didn’t feel high stakes, even though there’s supposed to be an entirely corrupt infrastructure within the town. There’s no real jeopardy; the villains aren’t scary. There’s nothing that feels like an inventive leap from a season-long arc to a film-length one. It’s student film-y, and a JV effort at that. It exists more for in-jokes and callbacks than for any other reason. The characters don’t develop within the movie — if anything, the final lesson is that it’s good not to go forward in your life. I fear that the key minds behind Veronica Mars have the same problem! (Yes, I feel horrible writing that out loud.)
Jace: KATE! I’d ask if we saw the same film, but I was sitting next to you at the screening. And you seemed to enjoy it at the time! Yes, there are a lot of callbacks and in-jokes layered throughout the film and the notion of returning to one’s past is clearly an intended theme, but I did feel as though the characters develop — or at least Veronica and Logan do, which is ultimately the central conceit here. I’ll grant you this: The other characters are basically window dressing for the romantic arc. They’re victims or villains, or collateral damage. And, as I said earlier, there is definitely a fan service element here.
Kate: It’s not like I was miserable watching it. I just wish it were on Showtime. I’m torn about this whole return-from-the-dead thing in popular culture. On the one hand, I feel like if you love something, set it free — it’s OK that things don’t last as long as we might want, and as we know, that’s much better than lasting too long. On the other hand, I support what my friend Robert Lloyd, a TV critic at The Los Angeles Times, called “a way paved with love” when writing about Veronica Mars’ Kickstarter project. If the creator and actors want it, and the fans want it, why not? I just wish for everyone that the final product achieved the heights the show could sometimes hit. It does not.
Jace: Well, that’s a subjective metric, arguably. And perhaps there is a half-life to these types of projects: Over time, there’s an exponential decay to the concept. Veronica as a teenage sleuth had a sort of Rian Johnson-Brick-like noir: high school as hardboiled crime scene. Sometimes you can’t go back and sometimes you shouldn’t. Sometimes, these concepts have just run their course, even though they were potentially canceled before their time. The Veronica Mars film felt tonally similar to the series that birthed it in a way that Arrested Development on Netflix certainly did not, in terms of feel or format. But my question is: Would it ever be possible for a spin-off feature film, one that clocks in at a scant two hours, to achieve what this show’s narrative did in three seasons of character development?
Kate: I felt like Serenity did a good job scaling the Firefly story into what felt like a real movie. And to keep calling this frothy bit of foam “noir” seems like self-hypnosis, Jace! Making a standalone movie out of a TV series is hard, there’s no question. I guess I just want for Veronica (and Veronica) what Rob Thomas and the movie don’t want: for her to move on. From Neptune, from Logan, from Piz. There’s a whole world out there with new people in it.
Jace: That reminds me of something someone said to me long ago: “Our childhoods cannot be recovered, nor recovered from.” And that’s the quest of most adults isn’t it: to deny the gravitational pull of one’s childhood and past and to struggle to move beyond it? Why should it be any different for Veronica? Neptune represents something dark and foreboding within her life, something to be confronted, and indeed recovered and recovered from.
Kate: Now you’re sounding like the light-as-a-feather addiction metaphor Veronica uses throughout the movie to justify her inability to let go of things that really do seem to be bad for her. There’s one joke in the movie when Veronica goes to her 10-year high school reunion and says to a queen bee-type (if we know her, I couldn’t remember her): “I knew you’d be here. You’ve been sitting here since graduation, haven’t you?” Sadly, I don’t think Veronica is one to talk.
Jace: It was Madison Sinclair! She was switched at birth with Mac? She spit in Veronica’s roofied drink at Shelly Pomeroy’s party and gave it to Veronica way back when and Veronica then unknowingly had sex with Duncan? Ringing any bells? Madison was one of Veronica’s tormentors… and Veronica, despite her return to Neptune here, did get out. She gave up her life as a PI and got the hell out of that town. While I’m not going to spoil the ending or the character arc here, sometimes it’s important to confront your demons. Or Madison Sinclair, as it were.
Kate: I remember the name, and now I remember that plot. But I think we’re both now just symbols of why this movie worked for you and not for me. If we can agree on one thing, perhaps it’s this: God help anyone who sees this movie who hasn’t watched the show.
Jace: We can most definitely agree on that. Even with the recap sequence at the top of the film, it is a particularly dense mythology to pierce without the aid of a guide, if you’ve never seen the show. Certainly, some elements (such as the reunion between Veronica and Logan, or the bad blood between Keith and the sheriff’s department) go over your head completely. Is it designed to get people to go back and watch the show for the first time after seeing the film? I’m not sure it is.
Kate: It’s not something a movie would do. I know you agree with me in your heart.