It's impossible to separate my love for Veronica Mars the show from Veronica Mars the movie. I've actually been trying to do just that since I saw the film at its world premiere at SXSW, and I have finally given up the ghost. Would I still enjoy the movie if I weren't such a fan of the series? I don't know. Maybe not. But I am a fan of the series, and I'm a very satisfied fan.
That's not to say that I would have loved the movie no matter what. In fact, my expectations were such that there was a substantial chance I'd be disappointed. At times it felt like a long, very good episode of the show, and if it had been nothing more, I'd be okay with that. But there is a depth and a breadth to the film that go beyond mystery-of-the-week storytelling: an examination of corruption in a town even more beset by economic inequality than most. That's a vein running through the three seasons of Veronica Mars that I always found fascinating, and the film expands on it in a way that feels mostly organic.
The mystery itself feels like little more than an excuse to get Veronica back where she belongs, in the bushes behind a long zoom lens, and honestly, I wish it were more. For those watching the film who have never seen the series, a good mystery film should stand alone. I don't think this movie can do that based solely on the strength of its mystery. Veronica (Kristen Bell) - a former teenaged private eye, now graduating law school and interviewing for top firms in New York City - is brought back to Neptune, California, the scene of her tortured adolescence, to clear her ex-boyfriend from a murder rap. Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) is accused of electrocuting his pop-star girlfriend, and Veronica knows something deeper's at play. The clues and the investigation aren't particularly compelling, nor the resolution - but as always, watching Veronica intimidate and charm her way into the information she requires is the true joy, and her detecting is as joyous here as ever.
At times Veronica Mars feels a tad heavy on the fan service - too many cameos, one particular callback to a speech from the series that I could have done without - but none of it feels cynical. The relationships of Veronica Mars remain its biggest strength, and it's something of a miracle that the actors can live so comfortably in these characters they were forced to abandon seven years ago. Veronica's father (Enrico Colantoni), her friends (Percy Daggs III, Tina Majorino, Francis Capra), her love interests (Dohring and Chris Lowell) and her enemies (Ryan Hansen, Ken Marino) all orbit Veronica like satellites around the moon, and each exchange, each tiny moment, feels warm and authentic. There's an energy between these actors that cannot be faked - well, it probably can, but I don't think that's what's happening here. I think this is real chemistry, lightning that actually did strike twice.
And that is almost entirely due to Kristen Bell's Veronica. She said during the Q&A that there's something about writer and director Rob Thomas' dialogue that lives in her brain, and this really does feel like the perfect marriage of performance and character. The dialogue is as sharp and funny as it was on the show, and Veronica remains my all-time favorite badass - more badass than ever, perhaps. There's a lipstick gag in the opening scene that instantly confirms she hasn't lost an ounce of her edge, and thank god for that. I love this woman, this fearless and furious and vulnerable woman, and I don't think there's been a character like her on television or in film before. Although some new viewers may have trouble following the thread from the series, I have no doubt Bell's performance, coupled with Thomas' words, will create new fans of this bristly, complicated heroine.
And her old fans? Well, I know it was a long time ago, and maybe you haven't thought of her lately at all, but trust me: Veronica Mars is still your friend.