Sparks fly between Jason Dohring and Kristen Bell on the big screen in the Veronica Mars movie.
If you’ve ever watched an episode of Veronica Mars, the fantastic teenage noir show that was cancelled too soon, you would know that Veronica (Kristen Bell) and her on-again-off-again flame, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), were the lifeblood of the series. Although Veronica was never defined by her romantic relationships – she was always too smart, strong, ambitious, and independent for that – the screen positively crackles when these two show up together. It helps that Dohring and Bell give great performances with equal parts pathos and perfect comic timing. They practically jump off the screen every time we see them together in the film.
You’d start watching the show because of Veronica, the expert gumshoe and defender of the downtrodden whose constant wisecracking masks her emotional damage. You’d keep coming back to see her sweet, realistic relationship with her doting father Keith (Enrico Colantini), a private investigator; she used to work on cases with him after-school. And, of course, for her tumultuous and magnetic relationship with the bad boy and hopelessly entitled son-of-a-movie-star, Logan Echolls. In the film, writer-director Thomas delves in deep with these two relationships, while also giving us a convincing portrait of where these and all of Veronica’s other contemporaries are at in their lives now, nine years later.
When the film begins, Veronica is on the cusp of landing a seeming dream job at a fancy New York law firm, having just graduated from Columbia Law School. Although she has left her trust issues and private eye gig far behind, her razor-sharp wit has gotten darker, suggesting she still might have some unfinished business. When Logan is accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend and asks for her help, she finds herself drawn back to her hometown of Neptune dusting off her PI skills. You can take the girl out of Neptune, but you can’t take Neptune out of the girl.
Shooting on location, writer-director Rob Thomas makes the Southern California town of Neptune a hotbed of desperation and despair. The war between the haves and the have-nots is even worse than when Veronica left. This is a place where corruption thrives: the police force gets off on harassing poorer minorities and pandering to the wealthy. Even Logan seems to have been charged for sport, in an effort to maintain that the wealthy don’t control the law.
But Logan has changed, too. Gone are his old bad boy tendencies, replaced with stalwartness, thanks to the discipline of the army. The class divide between the two has also decreased: gone is his careless and condescending entitlement, and Veronica’s fancy education lifts her status and her self-confidence. Their issues that once made them as bad for each other as they were good for each other have dissolved with time. Although Veronica starts the film in a committed relationship with her college boyfriend Piz, Thomas still shoots the scenes between Logan and Veronica creatively, making them feel instantly iconic.
Since Logan’s murdered ex-girlfriend, Bonnie DeVille, was a former classmate of Veronica’s (formerly Leighton Meester but now Andrea Estella), Thomas has a good excuse to round up the usual suspects: vapid rich girl Gia (Krysten Ritter), surfer-dude Dick (Ryan Hansen, hilarious), and even the old corrupt private eye competition, Vinnie Van Lowe (Ken Marino). It’s also an opportunity to explore how Logan and Veronica have changed. Unlike most of the time on the show, Logan is now too mature to be a real suspect, although some habits die hard. That lowers the stakes on the whodunit, which, though compelling, is a little facile even for a weak episode of the series. The film more than compensates with its clever, laugh-out-loud dialogue and its nuanced characters.
Although you certainly don’t have to have seen the show to enjoy or understand the film, if you have, the stakes for our hero are even higher. It’s hard to watch Veronica seemingly throw away her future to rekindle her past, but it’s triumphant and moving to see these characters so grown up, and in such good places. The film constantly suggests that Veronica is addicted to drama and Neptune, yet she’s better equipped to deal with the hellmouth where she went to high school than she was a decade ago. There are no perfectly happy endings in noir, but if this is the last word on Veronica Mars, it’s a fitting and even hopeful one, but it also opens up some great possibilities for the future of the franchise.