Thursday, March 27, 2014

Nostalgia, Fandom, and Kickstarter, Oh My! (Veronica Mars)

The reason this article took so long to reach you is because, having seen the new Veronica Mars movie this weekend and then spent the week since then obsessively rewatching the original series, I found that I didn't actually have a lot to say about it. Well, not a lot that was coherent or worth saying in a public forum, that is.

Sure, I had plenty of loud, high-pitched squeals about the various cameos and character developments, and I am generally over the moon about my favorite PI returning to my screen after a much too long absence. But actual honest-to-goodness thoughts? Not really.

Which, as it turns out, is a thought in and of itself. You see, the reason I didn't have much analysis of this movie, why my brain just started turning to mush every time I tried to analyze it, is mostly because the movie was so perfectly and completely what I wanted. Like, exactly what I wanted. Wrapped up in a little bow with a cherry on top.

This isn't to say that it was perfect, or that there weren't little flaws here and there. There were, and while the movie was very good, I would hesitate to call it great. But that's okay, because, and I have to say this again, the movie was exactly what I, as a fan, wanted it to be.

I know that doesn't sound weird. That doesn't sound particularly earth shattering. But it is. To get this, we kind of have to go back a ways and talk about how this movie came to be, and what that says about the future of movie-making in general. Whee!

As some of you probably remember (and donated to), the Veronica Mars movie happened because of Kickstarter. It was a pretty publicized Kickstarter campaign about a year and a half ago (I am terrible with dates), where the creator and stars of the show sent out a little clip of what this movie, a Veronica Mars feature length theatrical release movie, would look like. The fandom went nuts. Completely bonkers. Like, so crazy that you're just going to have to take my word for it. The campaign was fully funded way ahead of schedule, and, in fact, went well over the funding. They raised a crap ton of money. It was the first major project like this to get funded on Kickstarter, and pretty much immediately all the other fandoms for lovely cancelled-before-their-time shows started cooking up schemes to cash in.

Sadly (or not), none of those other shows has yet to come to fruition like this one did. But the fervor does suggest something interesting about the future of the film industry. More on that later.

So the Veronica Mars movie was funded by the fans and made as a labor of love by the cast and crew. It was then distributed and sent out to theaters, where it has received a good critical showing, and okay box office. The box office has been only really okay, because, well, this is a movie based on a cult TV show from the early 2000s, and while a lot of people love it, not all that many people remembered when it was coming out.

The funny thing, though, is that the movie itself is perfectly aware of the weird position it sits in. Alternately a run through the best times of Neptune High (such as they were) and an extended pilot for a new Veronica Mars show (yes, please yes), the plot of the film is incredibly concerned with perception of self, with identity, and with the all important question: Can you go home again?

In a word, yes. That's what planes are for.

But seriously, the simple idea of revisiting one's past is the actual framework for the film, and I have to say, it totally works. It also raises some really interesting questions about the role of fandom in authorship. More on that later too.

The movie starts with our hero, Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) interviewing for a position at a law firm. In the "nine" years since she left the screen, Veronica has stopped investigating, gone to Stanford, gotten a law degree, and managed to make herself a pretty cozy life in New York City. She's now dating Piz (Chris Lowell), and seemingly quite content, if bored as hell. All that changes when, just in time for the Neptune High ten year class reunion to occur, a pop star is murdered, and Logan Echols (Jason Dohring) is accused of doing it. Because of course he is.

The pop star in question, Bonnie DeVille, was actually Carrie Bishop (Andrea Estella, though played on the show by Leighton Meester), a former classmate of Veronica's. Bonnie and Logan were dating, though it was famously rocky, and he was found passed out next to her body, so obviously Logan is suspect number one. And who does Logan call when he's accused of murder and not sure he can prove his innocence? Why, Veronica Mars, of course!

Veronica rushes back to Neptune to lend a hand, all while telling herself, and Piz, that it doesn't mean anything, and she's just going to help out a friend. She then repeats that to her father (Enrico Colantoni) and her old friends, Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino). They all totally buy it. Definitely.

She then throws herself into helping find a lawyer, and when that doesn't really work, she decides that maybe, just a little, she can break her rule about no more investigations and help out her old friend Logan. Just a smidge. For old time's sake. She breaks out the camera, taser, and lockpicks, and almost immediately gets arrested for breaking and entering. She's gotten a little rusty.

The investigation takes Veronica through a lot of history, both her own and Bonnie's. She finds that Bonnie had a stalker, but that the stalker is largely harmless. She also discovers that Bonnie was probably hiding something, and that there was a distinct possibility that it was something terrible. Something in the past. 

SPOILERS

That something turns out to be the death of Bonnie's best friend, Susan Knight, almost ten years ago. Bonnie, Susan, and a group of other people were out partying on a boat, and Susan disappeared, presumably overboard, but that's not the real story. The real story involves a drug overdose, blackmail, and ten years of deeply creepy dudes. The real story also involves Gia Goodman (Krysten Ritter, fabulous as always), who Veronica runs into when she is unhappily forced to go to her high school reunion after all.

A lot of the stuff that happens is pretty par for the course for Veronica and Neptune. The case gets solved, and it is indeed as sordid as it seems, if not moreso. Logan is cleared, but his name is still dragged through the mud, because when isn't his name dragged through the mud? And Veronica's relationship blows up in the aftermath, because for some reason, her nice, sweet, stable boyfriend isn't cool with her taking off and leaving him so that she can deal with her ex-boyfriend's murder charge. 

I'm so shocked.

And then, of course, there are Logan and Veronica themselves, who finally, after about an hour and a half of tension, give in and kiss and you just feel so relieved and happy and excited and a little bit like you want to make a high pitched screeching noise for the next twelve hours. Even better? When the film ends, and Logan has to go back to his real life, which apparently involves being a pilot in the Navy (who knew?), he and Veronica are solid. They're going to go long distance. Weather it. 

Also, Veronica is moving back into her dad's office and being a private eye again, because let's be real. Is there anything else Veronica Mars could ever do that would bring her this much satisfaction? I don't think so. Girl is not cut out for boring.

Oh, and there is this whole subplot (that I love) dealing with the corruption of the Neptune Sheriff's department, as well as the institutional racism of the police force. It's a theme we see a lot of in the series, and I was glad - maybe glad isn't the right word - to see it brought back in the movie. Weevil (Francis Capra) is still around, as it happens, and his story arc was probably the most painful in the film. While he has changed and turned his life around, now a married man with an adorable daughter, he finds himself the victim of racial violence and charged with a crime he didn't commit. The only recourse he can see? Returning to his old life of crime.

All of that is super interesting to me, and trust me, there is a longer article coming along the pipeline talking about the representation of class and race in Neptune (because the dang show and movie are really good about that, actually), but for now, let's table all of that and go back to talking about mushy gushy love stuff.

Let's talk about Veronica and Logan and fan intervention, shall we?

As some of you might be aware, but most of you probably aren't, the role of Logan was not actually intended to be a series regular. Dohring was hired to play a jerkface rich kid, the former boyfriend of Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried) who hated Veronica. But Logan wasn't supposed to be in the whole show, and the writers certainly never had any intention of him ending up as the leading man, the Nora to Veronica's Nick. 

The reason Logan stuck around, and the reason why his character became so integral to the show as to be Veronica's endgame relationship, is largely due to fan response. Dohring gave the character such life, and it was so much fun to see Veronica and Logan verbally spar, that the two of them became a huge fan favorite. The show responded, and Logan stuck around. And around. And eventually, Veronica's original love interest was written out, and Logan took over center-stage, which led to the movie, where Veronica upends her whole life in order to help the guy who once called her a whore and smashed the headlights on her car with a tire-iron.

I think of this as the Spike effect, for Spike (James Marsters) on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it's not an uncommon phenomenon. What's more interesting is not that the fans fell in love with a minor character, even a psychotic one, and demanded more of him, it's that the writers went along with it. That they engaged with the fans in this sense of authorship, and that they allowed fan response to actually change the show.

That's pretty big.

Which brings us handily back around to the Kickstarter for this project, and what implications that has for the future of movies and television. 

For starters, it's my general opinion that the real reason this Kickstarter worked, and why this movie was so successful at getting funding and fan support, is precisely because of the close relationship between the creator and the fans. The show has always relied on its fandom, and this monetary commitment was really just an expression of that. It certainly sends a message about the importance of fan engagement for cult shows, and I would hope that the writers who currently spurn and annoy their fans (like, say, the writers of Supernatural and Teen Wolf) are taking notes.

But more than that, this says something interesting about fan engagement and the rise of personalized media. With Netflix starting to use our viewing patterns to predict hits, and Kickstarter campaigns to show how much we love the shows, with the increased use of social media to track the popularity and depth of engagement in shows, we as a culture have never been so well known. And, interestingly enough, there has never been more data about what we do and do not like.

What does this mean? Well, hopefully good things. I think it's interesting to note that Netflix's new shows have featured female protagonists, women of color - minorities in general - and a lot of other underrepresented groups, and I also find it encouraging that, of all the fantastic cancelled shows to get a second life via crowdfunding, it was the show about a teenage girl solving mysteries and being generally kickass that made a comeback.

Mostly, though, I'm just still really happy about this movie. I'm happy that Rob Thomas, the creator of the show and movie, has mentioned the possibility of a sequel (I am so down for that), and that the cast and crew are on board. And I'm happy that I got to see an ending that makes me feel all squishy inside.

I am grateful for this movie. I love this movie because it was exactly what I, as a fan, wanted it to be. And it was that because the cast and crew actually listened to their fans, and used that knowledge to make a better story. What isn't awesome about that?

2 comments:

  1. I don't know if you read my (questionable) blog but I have been FROTHING over this movie for months. I have no shame when it comes to this show. I'm a complete, frothy, kickstarter-backer-please-TAKE-MY-MONEY-TAKEIT! heap of swoon when it comes to ole V.

    TEAM MACWALLACE! I loved it. I can't say it enough. So, so, soooooooo glad it was made.

    And glad you and yours are a-ok, lady :)

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    1. Team MacWallace for the win. Always. And yeah, I miss the days of Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls flicking across my screen. Those were good days.

      Have you read the novel sequel yet?

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