“It actually does sit on a hellmouth.” So assesses Piz (Chris Lowell) of Neptune High, observing his fiancée’s 10-year reunion. Piz’s fiancée is, of course, Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), and the audience at the movie Veronica Mars claps and whoops with approval at his joke about his show and Buffy too, because as he makes the case they already know, that their beloved TV show is a TV show about TV shows as much as it’s about anything else.
It’s a good moment, one of several in the movie Veronica Mars that are simultaneously canny and cute, and also utterly familiar if you’ve watched even a couple of episodes out of the TV show’s three seasons on two networks. As the movie begins, you learn from Veronica’s usual sort of voice-over, she’s gotten older (if not precisely grown up), moved to New York, made it through Columbia law School and is poised to pass the bar, as well as take a job with a prestigious firm headed by Jamie Lee Curtis (okay, a stern-seeming partner played by Jamie Lee Curtis). As far as you and she know, she’s happy to be engaged to Piz, to be embarked on a new lucrative career, to be free of Neptune.
And then, not. Veronica gets a call for help—literally, as almost always, “Veronica, I need your help”—from the one vestige from her past that exerts the most pull, Logan (Jason Dohring). He’s the prime suspect in the murder of his pop star girlfriend, and apparently there’s not a single other person on the planet who can sort out the mystery. Such is the world in which Veronica Mars exists, a world built around her. Here she is both ordinary and extraordinary, earnest and ironic, dark and light, the perfect girl for a certain cross-section of viewers to love. Forever.
Such devotion is rewarded by the movie, which not only takes Veronica back to Neptune, but also has her seeing all her old, loyal fan-friends, like Mac (Tina Marjorino), still kind of caught in a ‘80s hair-world, and Weevil (Francis Capra), transformed by fatherhood, and Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and, thank goodness, her former sheriff/private investigator father Keith (played by the brilliant (Enrico Colantoni). Their scenes together always energized the TV show, and so again, their minutes on the big screen are easily the film’s most entertaining: as she feigns a terrible Spanish accent to gain information from an idiot (brother of) Sheriff Lamb (Jerry O’Connell), Keith stands in the far back of the frame, in a doorway no less, wondering out loud, “Do you think I was a good parent?”
Ha ha. You and he and Veronica all know he’s an awesome dad, inspiring her interest in all things surveilly, her keen mind, and her wry line readings. As father and daughter mirror one another, they also smartly observe that Veronica Mars world, the Neptune that will be, as she puts it, “ground zero” in the coming class war, as well as the Neptune that mirrors neatly some nearly-current events. Riding home from a characteristic Veronica Mars plot point (she’s been arrested and he’s come to fetch her from the sheriff’s office), they come across deputies working for the current regime stopping and frisking kids with spray paint cans in their car. When dad pulls out his cell phone to record the abuse, he’s the honorable everydad, cool and shrewd in the face of popular hysteria. Cut to Veronica in the passenger seat, smiling contentedly, just like you.
This connection, between you and her, is what makes the TV show and now the movie go. Apart from the expected narrative line here, that Veronica will make a couple of mistakes and then solve the mystery and sort out her own ambitions and desires along the way, the appeal of Veronica Mars is premised on its manifest love for its viewers. While this love is apparently reciprocated (see the Kickstarter campaign that raised some $5.7 million from TV show fans), it’s also not so usual as you might guess, if you think about it. Try running through the files in your head, of TV shows and movies that respect viewers, that repay rewatching, that don’t underestimate your intelligence. How short is that list?
This is one reason that Veronica Mars and Veronica Mars both earn such loyalty. The other is that she is, of course, a girl, which parameter makes the file list you’ve just created in your head even shorter. It’s true that her numbers have never been huge, that her appeal has been limited. But her appeal remains deep, in the sense that those who love the show and feel appreciated by it, have remained true. If it’s just that number who show up for the film—which is a TV show episode made slightly longer—that may be reward enough for that number.
The movie also reminds you that the TV show’s perpetual self-deconstruction, its entertaining breakdowns of noir and high school and coming of age and romance conventions, is hardly a limit, that movies are similarly easy targets, and moreover, that the distinction between TV and movies, once visible, is now often negligible. And so, if the whole Kickstarter “controversy” remains unresolved, it does pose excellent questions, concerning how projects get greenlighted and funded, whether by the usual big-money sources looking to make more money or by fans who want to see their favorite objects. What means delivers to whose ends? Who makes money and how? And who smiles contentedly at what they see?