No surprise: Veronica Mars: The Movie plays to the strengths of the franchise: Veronica’s chronically conflicted convictions, Keith’s ever-watchful eye, Logan’s inability to avoid controversy, the stability of Wallace, Mac, and Piz, and the loyal support of its fans. Full disclosure: I am one of the 91,585 Kickstarter backers of this movie, I watched it three times in as many days, I am a card-carrying Marshmallow, so spoilers and gushing abound below.
So, when the day comes to settle down,
Who’s to blame if you’re not around?
— Supertramp, “Take the Long Way Home”
Though the movie is fully enjoyable to the non-fan, there are plenty of nods to the nerds: the ever-charming Leo’s mention of Veronica’s supposed stint in the FBI, a reference to the trailer for the un-filmed fourth season of the show in which Veronica joins the FBI after college; the New York street musician playing The Dandy Warhols’ “We Used to Be Friends” as Veronica and Piz leave the NPR studio; a squeaky clean Weevil getting caught up in a seedy subplot; Piz getting in another dig at Matchbox 20’s “solo” Rob Thomas; sleepy-dog Clemmons claims that Neptune High has been boring since Veronica graduated; Corny pitches Veronica his homemade wallets, which of course he’s making a killing from on Etsy; when Veronica takes too long to return with drinks, the insinuation that she may have joined a cult arises; Piz and Veronica’s sextape resurfaces at the reunion, revamping both the salaciousness scandals of her Hearst College days and the relentless backstabbing of her high-school years. Not a single on-screen mention of Lilly Kane. Though she is mentioned in the script, the scene is shortened in the movie. Her absolute absence feels stronger than a brief cameo would have.
“I find it almost impossible to imagine Veronica Mars played by anyone other than Kristen Bell,” writes Rob Thomas (2006, p. 6), and he’d be hard-pressed to find someone who disagrees. The studio didn’t want Bell, but Thomas fought to keep her. “Had we lost that argument, there would be no show…” (p. 6). Her craftiness carries the movie as it did three seasons of the show. Movie critic Peter Travers (2014) writes, “Plot has never been the attraction in Veronica Mars… [I]t’s how she thinks that draws us in…” (p. 73).
The mystery in the movie is familiar ground for Veronica Mars: a single night of bad decisions buried by a long, elaborate cover-up that includes obsession, blackmail, and murder. As the golden-voiced Cliff would say, “I like this case, it’s tawdry.” Veronica’s unearthing the truth requires the usual hi-tech tools and toys, ill-gotten gadgets and police files, and the help of both friends and enemies. The prescient premise of Neptune, California, “a town without a middle class,” provides just enough social structure and economic disparity to guarantee what criminologists call an anomic ethics: The have-nots will do whatever is necessary to get theirs with no evident moral dilemma (Rosenfeld & Messner, 1997). This conflict view includes the local sheriff’s department, which having never been the beacon of legality has now found a way to leverage its place in the gaping space between the socioeconomic classes.
With such a gulf between the two classes and constant reminders of that gulf, crime is a political concept in Neptune, by definition in place to keep the privileged protected from the poor (see Bonger, 1969 and Vold, 1958). The sheriff’s department, now run by Don Lamb’s more inept younger brother Dan, mediates the disparity by offering protection and service, “to the highest bidder,” as Keith Mars puts it.
Speaking of, one of the main aspects of the movie that I appreciate as a fan of the show is the consistency with which the characters are handled. Keith is still Keith, the protective father and righteous citizen we all know and love. Gia was present on the plot’s night in question, but she maintains her presence as mildly annoying but harmless. Though he was there as well, Dick is still Dick: aloof but innocent. Vinnie Van Lowe is mixed-up in the mayhem—of course—but not in a way that implicates him as anything other than sleazy as ever. Lamb is just like his brother—only worse. The bad guy is not a character from the show (expertly played by Martin Starr, who played Roman in Rob Thomas’s short-lived but well-worthy Party Down), so we don’t have to hate anyone we already adore from the original series.
Does it feel that your life’s become a catastrophe?
Oh, it has to be for you to grow, boy.
When you look through the years and see what you could
Have been oh, what might have been,
If you’d had more time.
— Supertramp, “Take the Long Way Home”
Upon first viewing, I didn’t understand why Rob Thomas insisted that the characters all end up about where they started ten years ago as opposed to having things go in an entirely new direction. As it turns out, a sequel had already been penned, but its story-line requires everything in Neptune be back to “normal.” The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Vintage, 2014), which was released today, picks up where the movie leaves off. Veronica is back in Neptune, plans for a big-shot New York lawyer gig scrapped for a return to the sun and sin of Southern California:
Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is no simple missing person’s case; the house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.
“In writing an ongoing fictional creature I’m tugged in a couple different directions,” writes Rob Thomas (2006). “There’s the part of me that thinks Veronica should… get past her pettiness. She should learn how to forgive. The other part of me wants to keep her complicated. Difficult. Testy” (p. 148). Some writers and directors have a theme they tend to stick with throughout their work. Darren Aronofsky tells stories of obsession David Cronenberg’s films revolve around the body or the grotesque. Aaron Sorkin writes shows about the inner-workings behind the scenes. If I had to pick a theme for Rob Thomas, it would be getting pulled back in. His characters—Logan, Weevil, and especially Veronica—are always trying to escape their nature or their social milieus. Fortunately for us, they just can’t seem to stay away from trouble.
Bonger, William. (1969). Criminality and Economic Conditions. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Davies, Rich & Hodgson, Roger. (1979). Take the Long Way Home [Recorded by Supertramp]. Breakfast in America [LP]. Santa Monica, CA: A&M Records.
Rosenfeld R. & Messner, S. F. (1997). Markets, Morality, and an Institutional-Anomie Theory of Crime. In N. Passas & R. Agnew (Eds.), The Future of Anomie Theory (pp. 207-224). Boston: Northeastern University Press.
Thomas, Rob (Ed.). (2006). Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars. Benbella Books.
Thomas, Rob & Graham, Jennifer. (2014). Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line. New York: Vintage.
Travers, Peter. (2014, March 27). Kick-Start or Die! Rolling Stone, 1205, 73-74.
Vold, George B. (1958). Theoretical Criminology. New York: Oxford University Press.
I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.