Several times while watching the Veronica Mars movie, I had to remind myself that I wasn't in high school anymore. It's been nearly a decade since the teen-detective series premiered, and it’s been seven years since it concluded with an unsatisfying series finale. But thanks to a Kickstarter-funded movie that felt like such an effortless continuation of the TV show, it was easy to feel like I was back in my parents’ living room watching old friends—not in a theater alongside fellow fans who likely paid several times the cost of a ticket just to see the movie made.
For those who donated to the record-breaking crowdfunding experiment, which some are heralding as a revolutionary Hollywood business model, that money was well spent. The Veronica Mars movie is every bit the fan-servicing, self-referential movie that Marshmallows would want: familiar faces, snarky dialogue packed with pop-culture references, social commentary—in addition to socioeconomic class, the film has a few things to say about spying, surveillance, and digital privacy—and a good old-fashioned whodunnit. Taking place nine years after the events depicted on the TV show, a now grown-up Veronica is about to join the ranks of New York City’s big-shot attorneys when her estranged ex-boyfriend, Logan, accused of murdering his pop-star lover, sucks Veronica back into the private-eye life she had sworn off for good.
Much of the movie revolves around Veronica's high school reunion, which is fitting, considering that's exactly what this movie is—a reunion of beloved high school characters. Unfortunately, that means Mars newcomers will probably have as much fun watching as they would attending the reunion of a high school they never attended. Funny people are funny people whether you had algebra with them or not, so the show's trademark one-liners and clever banter will still likely elicit laughs even from viewers who didn’t watch the TV series. Veronica's wit, courtesy of Kristen Bell, is as charming and seductive as ever, particularly in the scenes when she's reunited with her father (Enrico Colantoni). But for each joke that’s for meant for everybody, there are several more meant for fans only.
Some of these references are easy to catch, like the street busker playing the show’s theme song in the background, while others are more obscure. If Veronica and Logan's tortured, epic romance wasn't that important to viewers back then, the words they exchanged on the big screen may not mean much.
At times the Veronica Mars movie is too self-referential, too aware that its very existence is a triumph of fervent online fan campaigning. Celebrity cameos from the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis validate the franchise and fans' interest in the show, and the TV series certainly had its fair share of guest-stars, but one surprise cameo in particular briefly makes Veronica Mars feel like a parody of Kickstarter success stories. And in an effort to squeeze in as many nods to the series' past as it could fit, the film sets up a few plots it doesn't exactly resolve. (Then again, maybe that's just creator Rob Thomas trying to keep the door open—he’s said before that he’s crossing his fingers for another movie or series run.)
Thankfully, the big mystery doesn't suffer too much for it. As could be expected for a franchise transitioning from an hour-long TV drama to feature-length film, Veronica's quest to catch a killer feels almost pressed for time. But one common critique of Veronica Mars the TV show was that, even when it had nearly two-dozen episodes to lay the groundwork, the show got tripped up in the details—when I re-watched old episodes recently, I found that even knowing what happened didn't make connecting the dots easier. So in some ways, putting a few constraints on Thomas's storytelling actually helps, and the central action here is almost as good as one of the show's better mysteries. Suspenseful and unexpected without being over-the top, it even avoids Thomas's usual tactic of building anticipation with a sudden number of red herrings.
But enough about murder—91,585 donors didn’t raise $5.7 million to find out who really killed a character once played by a pre-Gossip Girl Leighton Meester. A big part of the show's appeal was that Veronica was the patron saint of high school misfits, the sworn protector of every oddball, outcast, or otherwise disempowered teen who felt she or he didn’t belong. That made her a hero in the eyes of those tuning in at home, too. As fans watched her conquer bullies with her brain (okay, and a taser), take the high road instead of getting even, and seek justice in a town that was rarely fair, she delivered the fantasy of empowerment that so many teenagers—and plenty of twenty- and thirty-somethings—seldom felt. It's that connection, more so than her dueling love interests, that had fans racing to fork over their cash to bring her back.
Veronica Mars, the movie, is a continuation of that fantasy. It’s the victory lap that comes with returning to your high school as a success story, observing all the ways your best friends grew up and all the ways the class a-holes didn’t. It's realizing that the very classmates you thought were jerks may have had redeeming qualities you never bothered to notice. Sure, there are some classmates you wish had more time to catch up with, but that’s the thing about reunions: The entire time you were pretending to be over it, part of you was never done.