One year ago, a Kickstarter campaign to fund a feature film based on a short-lived-but-widely-celebrated television series surfaced. That campaign broke all kinds of Kickstarter records. It became the fastest project to reach $1 million, and then $2 million (both happened in less than 10 hours). It set the record for the project with the highest amount of backers, and one year later, it’s still the most financially successful Kickstarter project ever, with 91,585 backers donating a total of $5,702,153. Much has been said since about What This Means For Cinema, and several lofty $1 million-plus film goals have shown up on Kickstarter since. Sometimes they’re successful, sometimes not.
But the film’s out now, so what actually came of all of this? How’s the movie as a movie? It’s a question I can’t really answer honestly because I’m a fan of the show. Having seen it twice now, that’s the movie’s greatest strength and its biggest weakness. The film was funded by fans, and it caters almost exclusively towards fans, and despite some wishful thinking to the contrary (series creator Rob Thomas included), I don’t think this film is going to mean much to folks who aren’t fans of the show.
As an example, let’s take a look at Ramin Setoodeh’s negative review of the film which appeared recently in Variety. Ramin was largely unfamiliar with the show, and midway through his review, he wrote this very telling line:
Based on the movie alone, it would seem that Piz isn’t so bad. Why is Veronica so terrible to him?
Veronica is indifferent, even cruel to Piz in the film. This much is true. But it doesn’t really have anything to do with what the movie tells us about the two of them, or anything to do with Piz representing normalcy, a life that Veronica can never have. Nothing like that. It has to do with the fact that the two of them simply are not right for each other. You got a strong sense of this in the third season of the show, and it was never something that was explicitly spoken, but the two of them together just didn’t feel right – and this feeling was informed primarily by who they are as people, their actions and reactions spread across approximately 15 hours of television. That feeling carries into the movie, but 15 hours is a hell of a lot of context; it’s something that the obligatory summation at the film’s onset can’t provide. You can’t show someone’s fears or dreams, their sadness, or their growth in a summary. You can only dish out plot. So when Ramin ends his review saying “the Veronica Mars movie feels like attending a reunion for somebody else’s high school”, it’s the position of an outsider looking in. To me, it felt like catching up with old friends.
As a show, Veronica Mars often gets unfairly marginalized as teen fluff. It’s not, but that dismissal happens with some regularity. Yes, the show does wade into high school melodrama at times, and sometimes, it does more than wade. But newsflash: so does Mad Men. More to the point, Veronica Mars excelled at tackling subjects that most might think would exceed its grasp. It dealt with rape and sexual assault both frankly and honestly, never devolving into an insensitive mess, and it also keenly circled back to themes of class divisions, bullying, political corruption, drug use and alcoholism, celebrity obsession, the Greek system in higher education, and Keith Mars cooking dinner. In doing all this, Veronica Mars never felt like an After School Special – it always felt like we were watching a world that’s not *too* removed from our own.
Stylistically, it’s lovely, too, hanging the typical low-key shadows of film noir out in the California sun to bake awhile. It’s a colorful show, even when it’s dark out…
…or flashing backwards
All of this carries over into the film in one way or another. Going back to Ramin’s Variety review, I take issue with his assertion that the film is too dark (“did they film Veronica Mars in someone’s closet?”, he quips). And while I admittedly did not see the film in the theater (I went the HD VOD route courtesy of amazon), let me answer you before you even say anything: no, I didn’t stream Veronica Mars on a laptop or an iPad or anything – I watched it on a 55″ TV, both times.
Also, Ramin, what the hell do you mean by “I almost wonder if [the film] wasn’t mean to take place on the planet in its title” – have you not seen the NASA photos of Mars? Okay, yeah, it is a bit drab up there – earthtone Heaven – but it sure isn’t “trapped in the closet” dark:
Get your head in the game, Ramin.
Anyway. Back on topic. Veronica Mars (the show) had a look, and Veronica Mars (the film) shares that look. In particular I enjoyed how cold the opening scenes felt, when Veronica was interviewing for the job at Truman-Mann. Everything felt rigid and sterile. It wasn’t inviting, and Veronica did not fit in there, from an aesthetic standpoint. Yet back in Neptune, color started to seep in. A warmth crept back into things, and Veronica didn’t stick out anymore. She was right where she belongs.
As a mystery, the film was pretty satisfying despite its truncated format. We didn’t get a whole season’s worth of twists and turns in this whodunit – instead, we got a little over 100 minutes worth, but it was a solid 100 minutes. Much more enjoyable than, say, Identity a film of comparable length from around the same time as the show (Identity was released in 2003; Veronica Mars premiered in 2004).
As a comedy, it was quite funny; Joss Whedon by way of Elmore Leonard, just like the show was. My current favorite lines:
(Veronica attempting to guess Mac’s new job)
“Hooters waitress! Oooooh, no, Hooters BARBACK!”
(Logan, upon answering the doorbell and seeing Veronica)
“Hey Logan, that girl who follows you around is here!”
(Weevil, in the hospital with the DA after being shot)
“Please, get this case dismissed before anyone believes the words ‘time to party’ came out of my mouth”
Quick sidebar: what the hell is with Logan’s navy uniform? He’s swimming in it. He looks like he’s 12.
That baggy military garb up there is actually a great transition to the end of this post: the film just won’t be a good fit for those who aren’t fans of the show. It can’t be. And it really shouldn’t be. But the problem is that it’s not some insular event, regulated to a small niche of Marshmallows who’ll emit squeeeeees of joy when that Dandy Warhols tune kicks in at the end, or when Logan tells Veronica that their story is epic, who’ll gasp when Keith Mars’ car is blindsided or when Gia is shot and killed. This thing is in theaters now – anyone can see it, assuming it’s playing near them. And while it was primarily bankrolled by fans, and by extension, should be beholden to them first, the very nature of its genesis has got everyone paying attention to it, because this very well could be the future. And by future, I mean this: what’re you passionate about that went away too soon? Firefly? Carnivale? Freaks and Geeks or Undeclared? Well, if you fork out the cash for more, we’ll make it happen. That’s the future. Or one possible future, anyways.
There’s a lot of stances that can be taken on this, but the duality of it is summarized perfectly in the headline of this article by Wired. They didn’t dig the movie – and I’m not surprised.