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Where the Crawdads Sing Movie Review

Where the Crawdads Sing (2022) movie poster
Where the Crawdads Sing

Theatrical Release: July 15, 2022 / Running Time: 126 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Olivia Newman / Writers: Delia Owens (novel); Lucy Alibar (screenplay)

Cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones (Catherine "Kya" Clark), Taylor John Smith (Tate Walker), Harris Dickinson (Chase Andrews), Michael Hyatt (Mabel Madison), Sterling Macer Jr. (James "Jumpin'" Madison), David Strathairn (Tom Milton), Garret Dillahunt (Pa Clark), Ahna O'Reilly (Ma Clark), Jojo Regina (Young Kya), Leslie France (Old Kya), Luke David Blumm (Young Tate), Sam Anderson (Old Tate)


Where the Crawdads Sing appears to be an adaptation of a classic novel you didn't read in high school but should have. That's the vibe this movie tries to give off and for a little while, it is pretty convincing.

In fact, this coming-of-age drama is based on a more recent book, Delia Owens' 2018 bestseller of the same name, and while it has captivated millions of readers, this film is unlikely to have as great an impact.

It tells the story of Kya, a North Carolina girl who develops independence out of necessity. She is the only member of her family to stick around amidst her alcoholic father's abuse. When he dies, the seven-year-old girl fends for herself entirely, maintaining the family's marshland home all on her own and earning the condescending nickname "Marsh Girl" in the process.

Childhood friends Tate (Taylor John Smith) and Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) grow into lovers in the North Carolina coming-of-age drama "Where the Crawdads Sing."

The film jumps around chronologically, fleshing out Kya's unorthodox upbringing and contextualizing where she sits in the mid-1960s, accused of murdering a former high school football star to whom she had alleged romantic ties.

The lawsuit is fairly compelling, particularly because Kya is represented by Tom Milton,
an articulate and compassionate lawyer who delays retirement to take the case, and because Milton is played by David Stathairn, the one cast member who truly shines in this otherwise disappointingly adeqaute production.

The innate innocence of Kya (played in young adulthood by Daisy Edgar-Jones) seems hardly in question, but despite our first impression, the trial isn't fueled entirely by public prejudice and gossip. To understand Kya's situation, facing a long prison sentence and potentially even execution, the film must go back and detail two significant relationships in her life. The first involves childhood friend Tate (Taylor John Smith as an adult), who is helpful and courteous until he ghosts her one Fourth of July. The second involves the deceased, Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), an affluent local the movie clearly never wants us to fully embrace.

The compelling themes at the movie's start -- perseverance in the face of hardship, the kindness of strangers, the marsh as this otherworldly realm full of secrets -- mostly fall to the wayside in favor of young romance. That gives Crawdads the feel of a Nicholas Sparks movie. We are in North Carolina, after all, and we already know someone is going to end up dead.

Kya the Marsh Girl (Daisy Edgar-Jones) becomes a bestselling artist/illustrator years before she is put on trial for murder.

Either Owens' text has been betrayed or it simply isn't strong enough to sustain the early intrigue through these mushy turns.
A few interesting ideas are raised, like Kya having to raise the funds to pay backtaxes on the home and secure the deed to stop someone else from acquiring the land, something she achieves by pursuing a covert yet lucrative literary career of nature drawings and writings. But it's hard to fully buy in when they are presented without much authenticity or conviction and seem to exist only to supplement the fringes of this increasingly uninspired love triangle murder mystery courtroom drama.

Not terribly objectionable on its own merits, Crawdads compares favorably to the aforementioned class of insipid Sparks tearjerkers. But at its start, you expect something with more substance and soul, something like The Help, a movie no doubt that inspired some choices here including the decision to open in summer when theaters are teeming with superhero and dinosaur foot traffic.

With a stronger director, cast, or source text, Crawdads would have been easy to celebrate as rewarding counterprogramming. As is, it's probably first and foremost a reminder that most novels satisfy more in print than in big screen adaptation form where people other than you are making all the creative decisions for you.

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Reviewed July 15, 2022.

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