SXSW Film Review – Veronica Mars
In some ways my decision to see the Veronica Mars movie at SXSW was more than a bit unconventional, after all I have never seen more than a few episodes. And yet the premise of the show, the charismatic talent of Kristen Bell and the creativity of Rob Thomas had it towards the top on my list of shows I needed to go back and watch. I figured there was probable no better opportunity to dive into the prolific fandom that the show had created than to catch it at the World Premiere.
The film picks up years after the show as Veronica Mars (Bell) is about to graduate from law school and is looking for a job. After hearing that friend (and former love) Logan Echolis (Jason Dohring) has been accused of murder, she heads home to the seedy underbelly of Neptune, coincidentally just in time for her ten year high school reunion.
Rob Thomas was very forth coming in the Q&A after the movie that he decided to head in this direction due to the success of the film’s Kickstarter. He openly admitted that he want to please himself and the fan base by bringing back all of the fan favorite characters from the original series such as Enrico Colantoni, Percy Daggs III, Ryan Hansen, and Tina Majorino. Additionally the film is loaded with nods and cameos, as I could tell from the regular bursts of applause from the tremendously enthusiastic fanbase.
As an outsider I was definitely worried about being out of the loop, but they made sure to have brief retrospective to open the movie. Even still it was clear that this film was geared towards the hardcore fans. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact I did enjoy it, and in particular could understand why Kristen Bell was so beloved in the role. She completely embodies the character, her intelligence and quick wits have left an indelible mark on an entire generation. It is strange to watch her love story from an outsiders perspective, the magnetic pull with Dohring made her seem kind of selfish to many of the friends and family around her. Despite the charm Dohring clearly has waved over audiences, his character felt a bit stiff in the movie, and was not given enough material to flesh him out. But then again I was always more of a Noel guy on Felicity, so maybe I was predisposed to not be as enamored with him.
One thing that felt clear to me was the scope of the movie felt small. Given the small budget and 24 day shooting schedule this makes perfect sense, but to me it real felt like a TV show or TV movie more than a traditional narrative feature. The plot spent so much time on reconnecting the characters after their time apart and less on the murder mystery at its core (which was a bit underwhelming). I could see the potential of Mars as a detective, but it didn’t give her a lot of time to share those abilities. Similarly, a sub-plot is set up in regards to the police corruption that isn’t resolved in any sort of satisfying manner. If this were part of the episodic nature of a TV show than it wouldn’t be a problem at all, but within the context of the movie it feels like something that was cut short for the sake of runtime and leaves the viewer wanting more.
There is no question that Rob Thomas is an immensely talented individual (tell me where to throw in for the Party Down movie), but not everyone is talented at everything. His strengths seem to lean more toward episodic entertainment and extended character development, and not brevity – which is definitely a major skill. If a three hour cut of the film exists that would probably be the one to see, it just needed more time to simmer. As it stands now it never really felt like there was an urgency that the situation probably should have warranted given the short time frame. Perhaps if he had felt less burdened due to pleasing fans and was more willing to take new risks with this creation, it probably would have made a better singular film. That being said there is nothing wrong with hitting a niche in entertainment, after all that is what independent film is built upon.
At the end of the day I’m not the one who will write the book on Veronica Mars. The fans will decide her fate. If the audience at the premiere was any indicator of what to expect than I would assume Veronica Mars 2 is probably a forgone conclusion. I will be ready for that date, but next time I will have watched the full series and be fully prepared.