Well, the inevitable has finally occurred: Television and cinema have merged.
By Noah Gittell
Well, the inevitable has finally occurred: Television and cinema have merged. For years, the blurry line between the two media was relegated mostly to the onscreen TV talent trying and occasionally succeeding in making the jump to film; it’s only recently that the talent has begun to flow in the other direction (see “True Detective” for the best and most recent example). But despite improvements in the quality of television and the increasing migration of actors back and forth, the forms have remained fairly distinct. Flipping through the channels, it was always pretty easy to tell which was which.
“Veronica Mars,” just out in theaters and (of course) on Video on Demand, is a 90-minute episode of television that just happens to be called a film. Based on the popular, canceled television show, “Mars” brings back Kristen Bell, who originated the role on television before becoming successful in film, as the titular teen-age private eye. Nine years after the events of the show ended, Veronica has grown up and is about to embark upon a soul-crushing career as a corporate lawyer. But she puts all of that on hold when an old flame is accused of murder in her hometown of Neptune, California, and instead heads back to help him clear his name.
Coincidentally, it is also the weekend of her high school reunion, and – wouldn’t ya know it – some of her old classmates seem to be connected to the crime.
The mystery that drives the story is not particularly memorable, and neither are the characters. The cast is a collection of experienced television actors including Jerry O’Connell (“Sliders”), Enrico Colantoni (“Just Shoot Me”), and Martin Starr (“Freaks and Geeks”). Each of them knows how to read their lines, but there is a reason none graduated to the big screen, and few in the cast create memorable characters.
Bell is the exception. Brimming with confidence after her celebrated vocal performance in Disney’s “Frozen,” she transcends a script that relies more on snappy dialogue than character development and imbues Veronica with something universal. While the details of the character’s life may be unusual and unnecessarily quirky, Bell makes her into a relatable twenty-something in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, just trying to figure out what matters to her.
But while the movie-star charisma of Bell may keep the film watchable, it is just as often a hindrance to the story. Veronica was supposed to be an outcast and kind of a screw-up in high school, but Bell seems more like someone who would have sat at the cool table. Her ability to turn an underwritten character into something compelling is impressive, but it only throws some of the production’s shortcomings into greater relief. Despite the increased budget, “Veronica Mars” still looks like a television show, never achieving the grandeur of actual cinema, and you might find yourself wondering what a movie star is doing on such a pedestrian show.
How she got there (and how the film got made) is a story more interesting than the film itself. After the feature-length script was rejected by the major studios, Bell and the show’s creator Rob Thomas took to the Internet and asked the show’s passionate fan base to finance the film themselves through an online Kickstarter campaign. Thomas set a goal of raising $2 million; they reached it in the first ten hours. By the time the campaign was closed, nearly 100,000 people had contributed, and more than $5 million was raised.
And so Thomas gave his backers the film they wanted, while missing out on an opportunity to truly expand his audience. The contours of film allow for greater depth and a wider scope than television, and a truly cinematic “Veronica Mars” movie could have created enough of a buzz for Thomas, Bell, and all their backers to make more of these and really explore the character. As it stands, “Veronica Mars” may be remembered only as a technological anecdote and a reminder that, no matter how much the way we communicate changes, we will keep saying the same things.
My Rating: Skip it Altogether