A long time ago, we used to be friends with Veronica Mars, a TV show featuring an eponymous millennial teen girl as possessed by a 1940s private eye. It was noir in Technicolor, a bar of soap opera soaking in a brine of banter, and a social comments box you wanted to read through. But according to studio executives, Veronica didn’t have enough friends. For all of the show’s I-think-I-can, it was canned. And TV officially became a systemic injustice. Now, 7 years and over $5 million in fan fundraising later, Veronica’s deserved movie debut arrives with the tagline, “She thought she was out.” Maybe she did. But we never did. Because we know Veronica.
One of the greatest father daughter comedy crime-fighting acts in TV history – or maybe the only – Keith (Enrico Colantoni) and Veronica (Kristen Bell) Mars were instigators and investigators, living in the shadow of the tree of knowledge, selling the forbidden fruit that had already fallen, in the fictional-but-true town of Neptune, California. If someone needed to know something, they came to the Marses, who made it their business to know everything. Knowledge is power. If you know, you can plan revenge instead of being caught in the pain. And a painstorm watch is always in effect at the Mars household.
The reasons for this are outlined in an artful French memo board sequence at the beginning of the film; in short, the Mars took a demotion, from insiders to outsiders. And baby, it’s cold outside in Neptune. The town is a checkerboard of races, economic backgrounds and social classes, with the pieces stacked high on the expected squares. Throughout the show, Veronica stayed with the short stacks: a Hispanic reformed gang leader wrongly accused; a closeted gay student afraid of being outed; a middle-class girl raped at an upper-class party who is denied an investigation by the police. The last one, as we learn in the first episode, is none other than Veronica herself; it is an always open case and the nightmare that interrupted her American dream. There is no equal opportunity. There is no rising tide. There are those who have and those who have not. “When the class war starts,” Veronica narrates, “Neptune will be ground zero.”
That war is 10 years ago and 3,000 miles away as the film begins in a blurred palette of grays. Veronica has graduated from law school, moved to New York, and, when an interviewer (a foxy Jamie Lee Curtis) asks about her involvement in various criminal cases, Veronica replies, “that’s not me anymore.” A more precise reply would be she’s not on active duty. For as soon as ex-boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring), the ambassador of Neptune’s stormy atmosphere, calls facing a murder charge, her adrenaline gets a bum rush. “I need your help,” he says, and though we only see Kristen Bell in silhouette, she seems paralyzed in a pause so breathless I truly believed her heart was beating too fast to speak. I know mine was. “I don’t – really do that anymore,” she tries. Yet within 24 hours Veronica has been undertowed to Neptune – and so have we.
This is a film funded by the fans and for the fans, but if you aren’t a fan, you will be soon, because it’s fantastic. Creator and Sustainer Rob Thomas’ central plot device, the class reunion, becomes a literal metaphor in the tradition of Rear Window, with fans experiencing the same reunion as Veronica. A rolodex of characters from all three seasons spins madly but smoothly, tossing out references and updates, shifting our mood between nostalgia and regret. Of course, only one reunion can simultaneously stimulate both of those, among other sensations – Veronica and Logan.
Kristen Bell and Jason Dohring’s hard work on TV has made it look easy on film. Despite the years of separation, every line swells with subtext and every pause ripples with possibility. And as he drives her home from the reunion, with Sufjan Stevens on the stereo singing about being in love with a place, Veronica is almost clear of her almost Lost Weekend and starts congratulating herself: “Do I get a chip for this? Pouring the drink, swishing it, smelling it, leaving the bar without taking a sip?” The thing is, once you’ve tasted good and evil, you can’t go back. Or rather, you have to. And Veronica Mars is back in town.