There’s a famous saying that goes something like “Be careful what you want because you won’t get it but something might fall and hit you.” Perhaps it was to test that theory that we went to see the VERONICA MARS movie.
Fiona and I discovered the show on the recommendation of a good friend who discovered binge-watching before us, maybe because he’s American. Possibly all our UK friends were doing it already, but we were too busy watching pre-codes to notice. This was in the early stirrings of the Golden Age of TV when Lost and Battlestar Galactica seemed like a good idea and Breaking Bad probably hadn’t even been thought of. I don’t know, I’m no TV historian. But Veronica Mars had a lot going for it, as we recognized after two or three episodes. True, the actors were a bit uniformly good looking in a Lois & Clark kind of way, only juvenile. Thank heavens for the adults, who were good and schlubby. But the series had a lot of merits, which we looked forward to seeing carried over to the big-screen crowd-sourced version.
1) Plot. This is a major one — usually plot can be downgraded to the status of a series of hooks that keep us watching while the more important stuff is going on, but, to paraphrase Martin Scorsese at the start of THE COLOR OF MONEY, “With some players, plot itself can be an art.” Showrunner Rob Thomas would typically have a main plot and a subplot played out to satisfactory conclusions in each short episode, as well as keeping in the air the overarching series mystery (in series 1, this is the murder of Veronica’s best friend). All this made the show incredibly satisfying to watch — you got a lot — while also keeping you hungry for more. The teasers were irresistible.
2) Nice people. Even the deeply flawed characters, like Logan, were appealing. While we’re used to the Manichean nature of much western drama, it’s rare that I find myself touched by the goodness of a character. It sounds corny just to say it. But Veronica, though comprehensively traumatized before the pilot even starts, and confirmed in her cynicism by her evening job as assistant P.I., was always admirably decent, in a way that was impressive. The series tested her, and found flaws alright, but a good heart.
3) Class. I don’t mean just that the show is classy, I mean that’s about class, in a way that’s surprising and way beyond your basic “girl from the wrong side of the tracks” formulation. Series Two even had a major plotline about zoning. Being a Brit, I didn’t even know what zoning was, but I was fascinated to learn.
Would the series’ charm survive expansion to feature length and the big screen? It was with a mixture of hope and trepidation that we attended a late night screening at the Cameo along with four friends who are also fans. And would the results please anyone other than fans of the show? Given that fans literally paid for the movie (in advance, rather than the more usual afterwards), the filmmakers (series creator Rob Thomas partnered with regular series screenwriter Diane Ruggiero) would be under more pressure than usual to satisfy their core audience.
We all enjoyed the movie — as fans. Not having watched it since the third series finished, I couldn’t always remember who the minor characters were, but enough of the rest of the audience obviously did to produce laughs of familiarity. The storyline is perfectly comprehensible to anybody, regardless of whether they ever saw the series — the ways in which it renders itself comprehensible are perhaps questionable, though: a big recap at the start and Veronica’s VO (a device used in the show, admittedly). I’d love to have seen the info delivered more in action and dialogue, both of which the film handles well. That show always had sensational zingy talk, and the movie does too — I’d like to see Thomas & Ruggiero write a screwball comedy.
Does it look like a movie? Well, it’s handsomely lit — but then, everything is these Thomas is definitely a TV director though. His modest budget goes on gloss, and his technique is basically coverage. There’s a suggestion of a LONG GOODBYE kind of drifting camera approach to the wide shots, but the editing tends to cut those angles off before they start paying for themselves, interrupting the camera movements just as they open their mouths to speak. It’s a film of fast-cut closeups — some hinky continuity but some very nifty emotion-tweaking storytelling. It’s just that it’s stylistically somewhere between too much and not enough.
But hey — the TV series succeeded on content, and by and large so does the movie.
The plotting is smooth as ever (at one point, an address is humourously given as “Exposition Blvd” but plot info is always successfully integrated into dramatic argument) and one consequence of the movie catching up with its characters after such a gap is a new focus on social media — I can’t recall seeing the cyber-age reflected so clearly in a film since KICK-ASS. Like Sherlock and House of Cards, the movie features onscreen txt msging as a narrational device — the return of the intertitle, or an appropriation of the speech bubble? It’s such a useful method I can see it being here to stay.
The cast are all great. Kristen Bell is adorable as ever, Enrico Colantoni as her dad (that relationship was the heart of the show) is delightful, Krysten Ritter (Pinkman’s tragic girlfriend from Breaking Bad), who I’d forgotten was in the series at all, is fun, all neurotic twitching, and the stand-out is obnoxious ass-hat Ryan Hansen, who was a good heavy in the show but has evolved into a stunning comic relief. The banter with Bell is vintage screwball. Some of the cast has got curvier, some skinnier, but all are great on the big screen. Maybe the movie strains too hard to give all the series’ regular and semi-regular cast bits, but the fan audience appreciated that.
I got worried that the climax was going to swipe TOO much from BLOOD SIMPLE — it borrows just about the maximum allowable dose. In the end, the problem is more that the ending isn’t quite big enough, and the subplot (yay! a subplot!) is left hanging for a potential continuation. The agreement afterwards was that we’d all love to see a continuation — especially on TV.