I saw the Veronica Mars movie and I wanted to write about it, but I couldn’t find my way into what it was that I really loved about it. Then, I was walking the dog and something not that uncommon happened–two dirtbags yelled something really disgusting at me from their parked car. In my quaint little Midwestern town, home of a scenic college campus populated by a large number of wealthy adolescents, I get yelled at by bros in cars frequently enough that I consider it part of living here. Today’s incident was more aggressive and prolonged than usual and it came on the heels of getting a random text that I was being stalked last night.
Normally, I don’t respond to harassers at all. I continue whatever I’m doing as if they don’t exist, because I assume their behavior is about power and I’m not going to give them the satisfaction of making me blink, much less react. But on this day, I had seen Veronica Mars and I’m sick and tired (literally, not just figuratively). More than usual, I wanted to take a bat to their headlights, get the PCH Bike Club to chase them away, or find any way to make them pay for being the sexist assholes they were. I flipped them off and kept walking.
This is all to say that one thing I love about Veronica Mars is the rage. One of the genius elements of the series is the way that Veronica, in her petite, blonde, prettiness, acts on the rage that can be such an intense, but unspeakable part of being a woman. Women, girls, are not supposed to be angry, but so much of the bullshit (or worse) we put up with can make us angry. Enraged. And justifiably so. Veronica is a hero of mine because she doesn’t suppress the rage; she’s motivated by it to seek justice. Veronica is Batman, so to speak. (My friend Megan and I write more about Veronica as a feminist killjoy in Veronica Mars and Philosophy.)
So, what I especially loved about the Veronica Mars movie is the way that the story continues to treat Veronica’s anger about Lilly’s murder and the class warfare in Neptune as an origin story for her as a PI, but further explores the costs and the stakes of carrying that anger. The film picks up nine years after the show left off, with Veronica a graduate of Stanford and Columbia Law School, interviewing for big lawyer jobs in NYC. She’s long given up on sleuthing because of the destruction it caused in her relationships and the lives of those she loves. But then Logan Echolls is the prime suspect in the murder of a pop star who used to be Carrie Bishop and Veronica gets sucked back into the world of Neptune. Veronica is not the angry young woman she used to be. She’s a marshmallow, but she still dresses-down men who try to objectify or harass her. And when she goes back to Neptune, she still has to deal with the consequences of her rage and she comes face to face with plenty to be angry about, from the continued idiocy of 09ers to widespread police corruption. That anger may not be as intense as it used to be, but it still motivates her to fight back and help out.
The film frames Veronica’s struggle between continuing her new, tamer life or sticking around Neptune and all its potential for destruction as a struggle with addiction. It positions her struggle and her choices in a way that deeply resonates with the film noir roots of the series (see also: Neptune Noir) but also makes Veronica seem sort of like a superhero. At one point, when getting out her old PI gear, he refers to it as going to the “Bat Cave.” I think this is an important narrative move for a couple of reasons. As others have written, pairing the noir conventions of the reluctant or anti-hero with the conventional femininity of Veronica messes with traditional gender norms. I think the movie one-ups this dynamic from the series by taking Veronica out of Neptune and positioning her to think critically about her compulsions, her anger, what it cost her, and what it gained for her. Not only is the film then portraying an incredibly strong, smart, powerful woman as the lead, it does so while also portraying the emotional complications of her life and framing her story in a way that parallels how male leads of blockbuster franchises are framed. (Studio Execs, take note. Women can carry a movie without you dwelling on them being women or ignoring it completely.)
To me the movie felt darker, more intense than the series because the characters are older; they’ve sat with the hurt of the events of the TV show for years and their feelings have mellowed and/or complicated. The stakes are also higher. I think for much of the TV show, Veronica and company still had an air of invincibility because they were teenagers, and teenagers on a TV show, no less. Some pretty terrible things happened, but there was reasonable belief that everything would be okay. In the film, Veronica is facing choices that could change the course of her life. She’s a woman now. Somehow more confident and steady, but also risking a lot more. In true Veronica Mars fashion, however, the choices are complex. No matter what Veronica decides, she’s hurting someone or letting someone down. Rather than situating the female lead between the respectable life and the free life, as often happens, Veronica’s decision is more akin to that of a cowboy or a superhero: stability or a life of fighting for justice. I can’t tell you how much I hope there’s a sequel.
But, balancing out all this noir stuff, the film was also full of joyful moments. I’ve always enjoyed how much love, respect, and affection some of the characters on VM have for each other. In the movie, that comes through clearly, amplified by how excited the actors were to reunite with each other. The quippy banter sings and it’s just fun to see the gang back together again and find out what happened to people like Weevil, Mac, and Wallace. I’ve never loved Dick Casablancas more. Sadly, though, it seems that Backup has passed. My expectations were not super high, because although I love Veronica Mars, I feel like movies based on TV shows, especially hour-long dramas, often just feel like an extended episode. As a die-hard fan, I found the movie really satisfying.