For better or worse, Veronica Mars is a movie for the fans.
It's impossible to talk about the long-awaited follow-up to the short-lived TV series of the same name without mentioning its origins on Kickstarter. The show's small but dedicated fan base ensured that the adventures of Neptune, California's youngest private eye, would live on and the film feels like like a thank you letter to the fans who made it all possible.
So the Veronica Mars-initiated are going to be pleased as punch with the new movie. They'll cheer when their favorite characters return, applaud the resurrection of running jokes and enjoy the cinematic equivalent of a pleasant high school reunion. If you count yourself among the loyal "Marshmallows," this movie is going to be everything you want. You'll be satisfied. You can stop reading right now.
But those who have never seen a single frame of the show should tread cautiously -- Veronica Mars is not for them, never pretends to be for them and may leave them underwhelmed and wondering what all the fuss is about.
After a clunky opening montage attempts to get everyone up to speed on the premise of the original show, we catch up with Veronica (Kristen Bell), who has moved to New York City to pursue a career in law. Then her old friend/flame Logan (Jason Dohring) is accused of murder, old passions are reignited and pretty soon our heroine is nose deep in a criminal conspiracy.
And like any TV reunion special, all of her old costars stop by to wish her luck.
That right there is the biggest problem with Veronica Mars: it still looks and functions like a TV show, feeling more like a special two-part episode than an actual movie. The flat lighting couldn't be less evocative. The central mystery couldn't be less dramatic. Unless you already have enough invested in these characters to care about Logan's fate, the stakes couldn't be any lower. When the credits roll, it feels like you should be setting your DVR to make sure it records next week's episode.
There's still plenty of fun to be had. Although series creator Rob Thomas' direction is workmanlike, his dialogue is sharp and sarcastic. Every character in Veronica Mars utilizes language like a weapon and you're likely to miss many jokes because you were too busy giggling at a previous wisecrack. The scenes where characters shoot the breeze are a joyous jolt for newbs -- this is why people love these characters. Every actor is so game and so charming that Veronica Mars virgins may get frustrated by their lack of development. Characters pop in and out of the plot constantly, rarely getting proper introductions. Who are all of these people? What is their relationship to Veronica? Did he only show up for that one two-minute scene to throw a bone to the fans? The movie expects you to be a fan and already love these people.
But none of this matters. No complaint or bad review is going to convince the Marshmallows to stay away and for good reason: this is their movie. They put their money into it. They got it made. This wasn't made for snobby Movies.com critics who haven't seen the show. This movie was made to give a niche crowd a special experience that was designed specifically for them. As a stand-alone film, Veronica Mars doesn't work, but as the cheers and laughter from fans at the world premiere proved, it's going to get a lot of love from the people who really matter.
There's more to be said about how fans feel like they "own" a piece of Veronica Mars. We still don't know what Kickstarter is going to do to cinema in the long run, but this proves that an undervalued TV show with dedicated fans can ensure that a movie for them and them alone gets made. It's the democratization of art. If the finished film wins over nonfans, that's just gravy.
Veronica Mars can be a frustrating experience and its insistence on preaching to the choir is going to put some people off. But this witty California private investigator is at the head of a strange and fascinating new wave of fan-supported filmmaking. You don't have to like her movie to be thankful she's here to change the game.
Following its premiere at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival, Veronica Mars will officially arrive in theaters on March 14. Check out more of our coverage of this year's SXSW Film Festival here.
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