The high school reunion at the center of Veronica Mars is a perfect symbol for the movie. All the swirling feelings that come with blunt-force nostalgia are there, and it’s amazing to slip back into the old rhythms with beloved friends. The entire thing is like returning home to smiling faces and warm embraces.
But the prickly awkwardness is there, too. Questions about why we’ve stayed away for so long, why people haven’t evolved as much as they should, whether those old rhythms are really the best ones. Wanting what we’re used to while demanding something more. If ten-year reunions are for people on the cusp of understanding adulthood, Veronica Mars‘ reunion comes with a full on mid-life crisis.
A dozen years and a thousand lifetimes after Veronica (Kristen Bell) solved the biggest, most personal case of her young life, she returns to Neptune to help out former/eternal flame Logan (Jason Dohring) when his pop star girlfriend is murdered and he becomes the prime suspect. Maybe more important than what she’s returning to is what she’s leaving behind: a jumpstart job with a law firm before she’s even taken the bar and a stable, steady boyfriend in Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell).
Or maybe what she’s leaving behind isn’t that important.
The movie premiered at SXSW, and Chris already did a review, but it came from someone who’s never seen an episode of the show, so I wanted to add to the perspective pile a bit. To get the biographical part out of the way, a few years ago my wife was mildly irritated with me for binge-watching three season’s worth of Veronica Mars. Not for the first time, but for the third. So that’s where I’m coming from on this.
And it’s why I’m mostly conflicted. With Veronica grown up and in movie form, she’s lost a few of the gimmicks that added to the concrete of the show: she’s no longer a plucky teen detective, the noir elements are all but washed away except for the voice over and the mystery is secondary (or tertiary) to the story. That first part is par for the course for any evolving character, and the switch to cinema ensures there can’t be a mystery-of-the-week distracting from the larger arc, but the detective portion feels abandoned anyway.
The murder of Logan’s girlfriend is a MacGuffin that gets solved fairly easily in order to morph into an action thrill that’s not even as boldly choreographed as the first season’s blazing, fridge-trapped climax. Labyrinthine it isn’t. It’s as if Rob Thomas and company realized they couldn’t distill 20 hours into 2 and threw their hands in the air instead of finding a balance.
Instead, it’s just like that reunion — wanting to see your old detective, noir genre friend and realizing she’s changed into a existential drama. How Veronica will solve the crime doesn’t matter nearly as much as the question of whether escaping your small town and old life is a victory or surrender.
There’s also the television feel to everything. A glossy, great looking episode of the show that’s less than cinematic, but certainly impressive given the budget. This is (both in structure and with a lot of personal optimism) the first episode of Veronica Mars season 4. That the movie is only 10 minutes longer than the pilot episode, that it launches with a recap prologue that should come with “Previously on…” stapled to it and that it was accessible via my television certainly add to the feeling.
Then again, it’s amazing to be back with these characters again. The movie is stacked with the same language, the same shut-down one-liners, the same chemistry of the show, and there’s some powerful voodoo to that. Seeing the gang back together is overwhelming — there’s a distracting fog that makes it a kind of gut-punch delight. There’s a lot of fan heroine. A dog-napping inside joke, a comment on Kickstarter being pathetic, The Dandy Warhols’ “We Used to Be Friends” given a radical acoustic version by a street busker, and a nod toward Veronica’s FBI potential are all secret code for the cult.
Plus, the combination of Bell’s beautiful snark and Thomas’ writing mesmerizes as effortlessly as it used to. If for nothing else, the movie would float on due to that. The world revolves around Veronica — as it should — but with the comfort and adrenaline rush fighting against the cold newness of New York City (which is apparently less crime-addled than Neptune), the story makes a strong case for why all of us should want to pay first and last on an 90 zip code regardless of what’s going on.
As a fan, the movie is a high five, living off charm if not depth. Veronica Mars is an excellent old-friend experience, but like all reunion participants, you have to accept it for the nostalgic high it offers, the ways its changed and the elements of life that it hasn’t quite gotten together yet.
The Upside: Misty watercolor memories
The Downside: That this doesn’t guarantee an episode 2 of a fourth season
On the Side: Paris Hilton is nowhere to be found