I loved Veronica Mars, that So-Cal noir series that ran between 2004 and 2007. (Especially the first two seasons.) Her bitterness was so vividly explained. The class battles between the haves and have-nots always peppered the show, even as it cynically reminded us (as good noir does) that the wealthy and privileged have the means to insulate themselves against justice no matter how much Veronica tried to fix it. The series was also funny, with wonderful characters (Vinnie Van Lowe, the comic genius of Dick Casablancas). It ended too soon, and remains worthy of re-watching even now.

Veronica (Kristen Bell) was razor-sharp — that nose, that jawline, that cutting sense of humor — but the show was always fundamentally about her sadness, her loneliness. Perfect noir. Perfect for those of us for whom high school remains weirdly mythopoeic.

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Considering that sharpness, you couldn’t be surprised by Bell’s post-Veronica career as Veronica’s opposite: a privileged mean girl (HeroesForgetting Sarah MarshallParks and Recreation, the narrator’s voice in Gossip Girl). Which made me realize that her capacity for bitchiness always underlay her success as Veronica, too — Veronica was the girl who directed her meanness at the mean girls, overprivileged douchebags, and corrupt cops who made it so hard for the rest of us.

Now that we have a full-length feature film — made nine years later, and famously with millions of fan-driven Kickstarter dollars — does it still work?

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Is this the kind of movie that anyone can enjoy, not just fans of the series?

I doubt it, especially if you’re paying for it. Wait till it’s on TV and, who knows? Maybe it’ll propel you to the series after all.

Will fans of the series be happy with this film?

Absolutely (more details below). But it feels like a TV show, not a film.

Veronica-Mars-Movie-2014-ImagesThis film offers many pleasures — not least the way it managed to find every relevant actor to reprise his/her role from the series. The awful Madison Sinclair (Amanda Noret), the queen mean girl; the stoner Corny (Jonathan Chesner, whose appearance made me squeal with delight); even Veronica’s temporary flame on the force, Leo D’Amato (Max Greenfield) — not to mention the most crucial people, including Veronica’s father (Enrico Colantoni), Weevil (Francis Capra), and of course Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino). Lucky that the plots pivots around Neptune High’s 10-year high school reunion, because otherwise you’d shake your head at the crazy confluence of familiar faces.

hero_VeronicaMars-2014-1But the real reason Veronica has returned to town is that once again, Logan (Jason Dohring) finds himself accused of murder. They haven’t seen each other for nine years, and Veronica has remained with her public-radio boyfriend Piz (Chris Lowell) ever since. On the verge of landing her first post-law school job in New York as a corporate lawyer, she agrees to help Logan find a defense lawyer. Like, for one weekend only. Like she has that kind of self-control.

To his credit, Logan seems to have changed. He claims it’s his duty in the Navy — whatever it is, he seems unusually soft-spoken and lacking in the sociopathic tendencies that peppered his long history with Veronica. He now seems so self-possessed, almost like a stand-up guy. On the other hand, because of his past, no one really doubts that he might have the capacity to murder someone.

Jason-Dohring-as-Logan-EchollsNo wonder Wallace and Mac can see trouble around the corner. “In case it slipped your mind, Piz is the one without the baggage and the drama,” Wallace tells her, while Mac chimes in: “I will say this for him, he almost never gets charged with murder.”

“Just one of the things I love about Piz: no drama,” Veronica throws back at them. No one believes her.

Sure enough, before too long she has dug out her old dark, high-school era clothing for nighttime sleuthing, has scented out good reasons to believe a conspiracy is afoot, and she finds herself in Logan’s convertible, lit by the water and the neon and the jonesing for that crazy connection — the relationship that was epic, spanning years and continents, lives ruined, bloodshed….

As she tries to resist, she likens Logan’s appeal to an addiction she has broken. Or maybe she’s still in recovery. “Do I get a chip for this? Pouring the drink, swishing it, smelling it, leaving the bar without taking a sip. Is this what getting clean feels like?”

vm3Serious question: will this calm version of Logan still be as good a kisser? That was a primary reason to enjoy his appearance all those years ago, and I have my doubts about this one. Tag line: he may have been a sociopath, but a damn good kisser.

I have only one complaint about this film (besides the kissing question): that it is a film and not a two-hour pilot for a briefly revamped series with a clear end date (say, 12 episodes). Director Rob Thomas certainly left enough openings for future work — the corrupt police force, etc. And with her knowledge of the law, this Veronica might be even more of a force to be reckoned with.

But I also have a lingering sense that this Veronica won’t take, and the important problem is the mythopoeic nature of high school in TV series. Something about a teen detective navigating poisonous social politics and corruption works in a way that a 30-year-old who’s passed the bar will not. As much as I enjoyed every minute of this film, with its cameos and repartee and that revived thing between Veronica and Logan: maybe it’s time to let it go, to let this be our swan song, that one-night/ high school reunion return to old friends, old flames.

Seriously, though: Piz? surely she could have found someone else by now. That’s just sheer laziness, Veronica. Think about the kissing.

She used to be friends with them, a long time ago, but they hardly think of her lately except to hurl a couple of those old accusations at her. It all fell apart when Veronica Mars’ best friend was murdered. Not long after, Veronica lost her place among the anointed super-rich of Neptune and she went back to being just another lower-middle-class kid – one of many who live in the shadow of (or who provide services to) those extravagantly arrogant one-percenters.

The fact that she’s had a foot on either side of that fence makes her the perfect observer of both worlds. Veronica is cynical, sure, but she’s still capable of being shocked by the depths of sordid ugliness she witnesses in her crepuscular investigations. Moving back and forth between those different worlds of social rank – and between the brilliant SoCal daylight and its nighttime neon crappiness — makes her a liminal figure, prickly and slightly nostalgic about the naïf she used to be, about the love she used to feel for her lock-jawed, troubled ex-boyfriend, Duncan Kane, and her murdered best friend (Duncan’s sister) Lilly.

What’s not to love about Veronica Mars, at least seasons 1 and 2? Its skewering of the 1%, the diminutive Kristen Bell in the lead role (and the excellent Enrico Colantoni as her gumshoe father, an actor who raises the quality of every scene), the wisecracking dialogue. But what I love best is the cross-cutting of genres between film noir with the high school teen dramedy. Veronica is a modern-day Sam Spade/ Philip Marlowe, whose hard nose is pretty hard, yet still allows for a few sensitive spots where she can still be offended, hurt, disgusted, or maybe swept off her feet. (I maintain that Rian Johnson’s Brick, which won the Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, must’ve been indebted to Veronica Mars as an influence.)

It’s those California noir night scenes I love best – the ones in which she sits in her crappy car on a stakeout, or in her father’s private detective office with the glow of a computer screen. The cinematographer never missed an opportunity to give us more of that vivid noir texture: the nighttime ripples of an apartment-building swimming pool, the shadows and grime of the Camelot Motel under the harsh glow of streetlights. Those places where she’s alone and lets the melancholy move in, like coastal fog. Where she’s not performing those publicly-acceptable versions of herself. Where she’s allowed to think.

It’s such a good emotional escape — to hunt down one or two of those episodes at TheWB.com (despite all the ads; sorry ’bout that) and let yourself dive in. It’s a kind of noir you don’t get to see enough of, and which hits a wide range of pleasure centers. Why don’t any other teen shows opt for noir rather than melodrama?