SXSW Review: Veronica Mars


I’m going to open this with one thing: the Veronica Mars movie was a triumph before it debuted today at SXSW. A historic film that showed that crowdfunding can launch a movie and that film distribution can be done in a different way. In the future when they look back at a key point in films getting made for less and distributing to the fans that want them they’ll point here for when things really started to change.

But the movie has now debuted and people have seen it, myself included. I’ll preface the rest of this review by saying that I am a big fan of the series and a backer of the film, but I’m also a film critic so I’m going to come at this thing from both aspects. So is the film itself as triumphant as its production? 

Find out below, marshmallows. 

Veronica Mars - Theatrical Trailer (In Select Theaters Now)

Veronica Mars
Director: Rob Thomas
Rated: PG-13
Release Date: March 14, 2014 

Despite writer/director Rob Thomas’s fervent statements to the contrary this is a movie for (and by) the fans. While the opening does a quick job of recapping three seasons of mystery solving greatness if you have never watched the show this movie is not going to play as well for you. It’s simply impossible to recreate the three seasons worth of character building and relationships in two hours and so plenty of major emotional moments unfortunately mean a lot less to non-fans despite hitting perfectly with fans. There’s an easy solution to this issue though: go watch Veronica Mars. Now that you’re a fan this is your movie and you’re going to love it.

(Warning if you want to go into this completely blind read no further as the review fills in some of the history since the show ended but there are no big plot spoilers.)

Now that you’re all caught up the film finds Veronica (Kristen Bell) working in New York and about to become a high powered lawyer having abandoned her private eye days. Her and Piz (Chris Lowell) have rekindled their relationship and things look good. Then Logan Echolls (a constantly smoldering Jason Dohring) gets accused of murder (some things never change) and Veronica rushes back to Neptune to help him find a good lawyer. Of course she can’t stay away from a good case, especially one involving Logan, so she dives back in despite the worry of her father Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni) and with the help of best friends Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (an incredibly grown up Tina Majorino). Oh, and everyone else ever from the show. Like… ever.

Since you took my advice above and watched the show you’ll be happy to know that despite a 10 year break this is the Veronica Mars you fell in love with. Rob Thomas’s writing for Veronica is just as sharp as ever and Kirsten Bell delivers it just a bitingly as she did ten years ago. The screenplay flows wonderfully from past references to great one liners to “epic” moments. Fans won’t be disappointed with how the movie feels because it feels like an extra long episode of Veronica Mars

Part of that credit has to go to the cast, who it appears has been rehearsing their parts for the past ten years. Everyone falls right back into it effortlessly, especially Bell and Colantoni, whose father daughter relationship is as wonderful as ever even if it isn’t on screen for enough time, begging the question of why the movie isn’t four to five hours long so that all our fan dreams can come true.

As for the romance of the film Dohring and Bell are still as electric together as ever. Even a die hard team Piz member such as myself can see the two spark on screen and their relationships is one of the few that should have all the same feeling whether you’re a fan of the show or not. Dick (Ryan Hansen) is just as wonderfully horrible as you remember with Hansen clearly ravishing every insult he gets to toss. The only weak link is Jerry O’Connell’s Sheriff Lamb (older brother of the not so dearly departed original Sheriff Lamb), whose character feels forced and undeveloped — basically there to make sure the cops of Neptune are still idiots. 

He’s a minor bump for any fan, though. If you’re not a fan, however, this film is just not going to play as well. It probably really shouldn’t considering how it was made, but if you get brought to this by a fan it’s going to be hard to connect. Outside of the Logan/Veronica relationship some of the cameos and returning characters can feel forced. They’re amazing if you know who and what people are, but if you don’t you might just be scratching your head. I’m sorry to say that Wallace is horribly underused and Eli Navarro (Francis Capra) could pretty much be entirely removed from the film without much consequence plot wise.

This also isn’t one of Veronica’s strongest mysteries. Thanks to all the awesome fan service and rebuilding of character’s relationships the mystery itself comes a distant second. Figuring out who actually killed Logan’s ex-girlfriend (yes, again) isn’t one of Veronica’s toughest cases and it plays out relatively predictably. It’s definitely the sacrifice the film makes in order to be more about the character’s people love. If you’re a fan you’re not going to care one bit about this, because that sacrifice is what you want, but outside of the fan base you won’t be as pleased. This isn’t to say that Veronica Mars fails as a mystery. Thomas’s writing is still smart and crisp enough to keep the film running at a great and intriguing clip, and it must be remembered that the mystery is coming in second to the wonderful development of characters that people already love.

For fans Veronica Mars is everything you could want out of a Veronica Mars movie. It’s amazing that the film feels like it was made the day after filming on the show stopped and not 10 years later. This is the Veronica Mars you’ve been dying for, and if that means non-fans aren’t going to have as good a time as fans at the movie then screw them, they should be fans in the first place. Hopefully after catching this they’ll be prompted to go back and watch the show.

Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.