Monday, March 17, 2014

Marshmallows Unite! Veronica Mars (2014)

The first major studio release funded by a Kickstarter campaign, Veronica Mars is based on a cult television show from the last decade about a teenage detective solving crimes in the have/have-not world of a Southern California high school—sort of a cross between Nancy Drew and Pretty in Pink with dialogue worthy of a Humphrey Bogart movie. Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars had a gift for playing tough on the outside, "marshmallow" (her word) on the inside, that made what could have been an absurd concept into compelling television.

Compelling if you ever saw it, that is.

A ratings flop from the get-go, Mars hung around for three years and then was abruptly cancelled with several irons in the storyline fire. Happens all the time, but Veronica's fans— marshmallows to you—wouldn't let it go, and after years of lobbying, they made Warner Brothers a put-up or shut-up offer: we'll raise the money for the production if you'll distribute the film. And raise money they did. The goal was $2 million in a month; they raised more than $5 million in 24 hours.

With the box office success of the film this last weekend along with what promises to be a cash bonanza from its simultaneous release on a number of streaming platforms, Veronica Mars is a victory for a new business model, one that will likely have a bigger impact on Hollywood than many of the blockbusters and Oscar winners that will follow it this year.

Which is all very interesting in a shoptalk sort of way, but, you know, what about the movie? Is it any good? Should you see it?

Those are two different questions.

We here at the Monkey are fans, so of course we liked it. Katie-Bar-The-Door and I are devoted marshmallows—and have been for, oh, three weeks, I think. We are the perfect examples of how good marketing and streaming technology can short circuit the journey from casual viewer to hardcore junkie. What would have once taken a decade took less than a month, introducing us to a show we'd never heard of via the cover of Entertainment Weekly, serving it up to us for free via Amazon Prime, and letting us binge-watch the entire series on consecutive weekends.

And I suspect people like us are key: Warner Brothers knew the fans would show up, but could anybody else be induced to give a damn? Turns out the original series was one of the neglected gems of the last decade. Once we started watching, we were hooked, and from the end of February to this weekend, the biggest questions on our minds (aside from will the snow ever stop and who'll be the utility infielder for the Washington Nationals) were "Who killed Lilly Kane?" and "Who's a better boyfriend, Logan or Piz?"

And therein lies the answer to the question "Should you see Veronica Mars, the movie?" If you've seen the series, then absolutely. It's a fun reunion with lots of inside jokes, the same dry film noir era humor, and a deeper look into the troubled psyche that fuels Veronica's compulsive, self-destructive need to find the truth—the dark thread that stitched the series together.

If you haven't seen the series, I'd say watch the series—you'll wind up watching the movie. But if you're not so inclined, well, you'll be able to follow the murder mystery, but the emotional ties that bind the characters together will be lost on you—it'll likely wash over you the way an entry in an old detective serial on TCM might wash over you, The Falcon Takes Over, say.

I suspect there are more Mars movies to come, so my recommendation is grab a bag of marshmallows and get busy bingeing.

The series: 4.5 stars out of 5
The movie if you're a fan: 4 stars out of 5
The movie if you're not a fan: 2.5 stars out of 5

Postscript with spoilers: While we already knew who killed Lilly Kane, the movie provides its answer to the question, Logan or Piz. I'm sure most fans will be happy with the answer, but unfortunately, the best choice—none of the above—wasn't on the menu. Maybe one day the girl will grow up enough to realize that sometimes the best company is the one you keep in your head.

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