A Very Millennial Veronica Mars

Please Note: This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the Veronica Mars film, particularly the end. Don’t read ahead if you haven’t seen it yet and want to remain unspoiled!

Official Veronica Mars movie poster

Halfway through the midnight showing of the Veronica Mars movie, I leaned over to a friend and whispered, “The most unrealistic thing about this movie is that everyone celebrating their 10-year high school reunion in 2014 has a great job.” But by the end of the film, when Veronica found herself back in the game, working for her father in her hometown along with one of her best friends from high school, I had to take it back. The movie was more realistic than I ever could have imagined.

I won’t dispute that Veronica Mars fans span a wide range of ages, but for me, member of the high school Class of 2004, the show has always had a special resonance. It premiered the fall I started college, and I have vivid memories of staking out the dorm TV room each week, arriving a half hour early and suffering through the end of America’s Next Top Model just to make sure my claim on the room was solid. And while Veronica’s last two years of high school technically coincided with my first two years of college, thus making her the Class of 2006, the movie’s stretching of 8 years of real time into 10 years of fictional time brought Veronica’s life even closer to mine, serendipitously reinforcing what I’d always felt: that Veronica Mars is, at its core, a show about my generation.

As older millennials, my generation has always existed at an awkward transitional place. We aren’t really “digital natives” (unless you count playing Oregon Trail in our elementary school libraries), but most of us had dial-up internet at home by high school. We were some of the last high school students not to have Facebook, but some of the very first college students to have it. (Mark Zuckerberg, after all, is just two years older than me.) Then we graduated college smack dab in the middle of the most recent recession/financial collapse, which led to drastically reduced job prospects. Those who, like my friends and me, were not particularly rich to start with (i.e. those who aren’t Veronica Mars’ ’09-ers), are often still living at home with our parents, in our hometowns, with limited or nonexistent employment. And now we’re staring down the barrel of our imminent 10-year reunion, trying to figure out what happened.

Veronica Mars, as a character, has always represented the best hopes of my particular demographic. She’s clever and brave and capable of overcoming everything the world throws at her. She’s unafraid to take on the privileged and call them out on their crap. She’s equally comfortable with high-tech and low-tech methods of investigation. She has a few core friends, but knows that shallow popularity only gets you burned. And she has the chance to make it out of Neptune, California and go somewhere so much better.

But even when she does – even when she gets into Stanford initially, in the series, or when she’s offered a high-powered law job, in the film – she’s drawn, inexorably, back to where she began. Part of that is, of course, the nature of serial fiction – if the status quo changes markedly, you don’t have the same show. And in the case of the movie, showrunner Rob Thomas has made it abundantly clear that he was trying to give long-time fans what they want, first and foremost. Unlike Firefly follow-up Serenity, which threw the status quo to the wind and killed off two major characters, the Veronica Mars movie is primarily a loving tribute to the show that led everyone to give so much Kickstarter money in the first place, and fans of that show are interested in Veronica Mars: private investigator, not Veronica Mars: big shot corporation-defending lawyer. The ending of the film is no big surprise.

Yet the conclusion of the film is also, intentionally or not, a reflection of my generation’s circumstance. For better or worse, we’re still hanging out with our parents (who we mostly even like!) and our high school friends, and Veronica Mars, as a film, is a lesson in how to make peace with that. In some cases, like Wallace’s choice to teach at his old high school and his resultant happiness, that peace comes fairly easily. For those of us who are more like Veronica, though, it’s taken a little longer to realize that it might be ok to not give up the things and people who have been by your side all along. In the movie’s opening voiceover, Veronica quotes “Born to Run” and its command to get out of our home towns while we’re young, but by the end, she’s made a decision to do the very opposite of that (much like Bruce Springsteen himself, who’s still living in New Jersey after all these years).

There are ways this kind of stagnation can go wrong – and Weevil’s return to his motorcycle gang at the end of the film is a sad comment on the difficulty of escaping cycles of poverty and violence – but the film’s conclusion shows viewers that it’s ok to lose out on those lucrative jobs in morally-ambiguous corporations (Veronica’s job offer, or Mac’s Kane tech job) if you have an alternative, if less prestigious, means of employment, surrounded by people you love.

Much like a 10-year high school reunion, the Veronica Mars movie is fueled by nostalgia and too-short conversations with people we loved and hated and loved-to-hate way back when. It’s imperfect, yet deeply satisfying, and everything Thomas promised fans it would be. (Others have said very smart things about this movie and its relationship to fan culture, though that’s beyond the scope of this post.) But it’s also the 10-years-later portrait of a very particular generation, and for that alone, I’m so happy to have seen it on the big screen.