The most high-profile Kickstarter movie project to make it to the big screen, Veronica Mars hits theaters today, with a simultaneous VOD release. The TV version ran from 2004 to 2007, pulling ratings that weren’t quite good enough to keep the CW from canceling it. But while its fanbase might not have been a wide river, it was a deep one, and when creator Rob Thomas (not the Matchbox 20 guy) put his idea for a film version on Kickstarter, the hardcore fans put up $1 million in the first five hours, a vote of confidence if ever there was one. But in spite of all the news stories, I went in completely cold, like freshly fallen snow for Kristen Bell to shred on. If I offer any perspective here, it’s that of a total noob, a sociologist stumbling into some strange tribe during their fertility ceremony.
Nearest I can tell, Veronica Mars is about a glib, clever chick who has strangely adversarial relationships with everyone, makes her bones by outsmarting people, and gets fought over by self-deprecating male models who’ve been dressed to fit a costume designer’s idea of “Average Joe.” Is “blandsome” a word? It should be. Everyone in this movie is very blandsome.
Before the screening starts, a local radio guy from one of those Chico and The Tumor-style morning shows gets up in front to congratulate us on being the first people to see the Veronica Mars movie in the Bay Area. Everyone claps, getting pumped about how great we are. He asks if there are any “Marshmellows” in the crowd, which I gather is the demonym for Veronica Mars nation. Two ladies in baseball-style Veronica Mars shirts sitting to my right clap excitedly, literally squealing with anticipation.
The film begins with a lengthy montage explaining everything that Veronica has been up to these past 10 years. Early on, she says something to the effect of, “An 18-year-old private eye, I know, it sounds like the plot of a bad movie.”
Acknowledging the inherent silliness of the premise is a key tenet of Veronica Mars. It seems to be designed for people who deep down love the idea of a plucky teenage private eye, but are aware enough to be a little embarrassed by something so blatantly corny. So every time the action gets silly enough that the guilt of loving it threatens to become unbearable, Veronica makes a cute little joke about it and armpit farts at the camera. If this sounds like a judgment, it’s not. Acknowledging the silliness of your genre is actually one of my favorite narrative strategies. My hero Shane Black made a career out of doing something very similar. To make an SAT analogy, a plucky teenage private eye in a town full of squeaky clean honkies is to a Marshmellow as unshaven Bruce Willis drinking, smoking, and swearing too much while dropping Borscht Belt-y one liners is to me. In that sense, I get it.
So anyway, Veronica Mars has spent the past 10 years graduating Summa Cum Laude with a degree in psychology before finishing at the top of her class at Stanford Law School and moving to New York City, the only city where smart, independent female movie characters have ever lived. Which we learn in the first scene, when high-powered law firm lady Jamie Lee Curtis reads Veronica’s resume across the boardroom table during the interview, that tried-and-true expositional strategy. Jamie Lee wears an asymmetrical pantsuit and is very interested in Veronica coming to work for Truman and Lawstein, because Veronica is very smart, you see.