Every single evening, the water glows golden as the sun sets and the moss cicadas. But while “Where the Crawdads Sing” has a lot of atmospheres, it is sorely devoid of substance or tension.
It may have seemed impossible to some to take a best-selling novel and turn it into an acclaimed movie, but that’s exactly what happened with Delia Owens’ source material. “Where the Crawdads Sing” became successful in part due to Reese Witherspoon selecting it for her book club; Witherspoon is also a producer of the film. To add to the high expectations, Taylor Swift wrote and performed the theme song herself.
Director Olivia Newman jumped around between a young woman’s murder trial and her recollections of growing up tough in the 1950s and ‘60s North Carolina, without much sense of momentum. (Newman was working from a script by Lucy Alibar, who also wrote “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”) As a result, “Where The Crawdads Sing” turned out to be surprisingly inert – despite its potential as evidenced by its intriguing pulpy premise.
It’s so densely packed with a narrative that it appears to be superficial, with major revelations treated as hurried afterthoughts. “Where the Crawdads Sing” is unusually bland and modest when compared to other films about hardy women who have grown up in the wild and live by their own rules. The characters never develop beyond a basic quality or two aside from Daisy Edgar-Jones’ multi-layered performance as its protagonist.
In the marshes of Barkley Cove, North Carolina, in October 1969, two boys find a corpse in the muck. Chase Andrews is revealed to be a well-known big fish in this tiny pond; he was an ex has-been who had been forgotten and abandoned by his former lover. Kya, with whom he had once had an unlikely romantic connection, becomes the prime suspect. She’s an easy target since she’s long been despised and maligned as The Marsh Girl—or That Marsh Girl when folks are feeling very disrespectful toward her—and she lives on isolated from all others for miles around.
The flashbacks reveal the abuse she and her family suffered at the hands of her volatile, alcoholic father (Garret Dillahunt). The subsequent abandonment she endured as everyone left her, one by one, to fend for herself—starting with her mother. These vivid, early sections are the most emotionally powerful. Jojo Regina gives an impressive performance in her first major film role as eight-year-old Kya.
Two very distinct young men influence her formative years as she matures into her teens and early twenties: Tate, who was too good to be true (Taylor John Smith), a childhood buddy who instructs her to read and write, becomes her first love. Kya is immediately comforted by the boy, compared to the tension she was feeling before. She then meets Chase (Harris Dickinson) later on, who is rude and bullied from their first encounter. Something that Kya failed to see because of her reclusive nature.
Kya grows into an inquisitive and talented artist, art autodidact, and sensitive child in the next stage of her development. She lacks emotional maturity but makes up for it with interest in the natural world around her, becoming a gifted artist and self-taught learner. Edgar-Jones perfectly captures Kya’s raw emotions while also subtly conveying her wariness and mistrust. Almost everyone lets her down and underestimates her, with the exception of the kind Black couple who own the local convenience store and act as makeshift parents (Sterling Macer Jr. and Michael Hyatt, providing much-needed warmth though there isn’t much to their characters). Out of all the characters in the film, David Strathairn had the least amount to work with in his role as Kya’s attorney. Even so, he managed to infuse sympathy into the character and bring him to life convincingly.
In the film’s trial sequences, however, this comes to light in a particularly evident manner. Every time “Where the Crawdads Sing” shifts to Kya’s murder trial—which happens out of nowhere, with no discernible rhythm or purpose—the pacing slows and you yearn to be back in the sun-dappled marshes investigating its many creatures again. (Polly Morgan does an excellent job with the visuals.)
The terrible twist that plays out is so unintentionally laughable and dizzyingly speedy that it gives the sense that everyone involved felt the need to cram it all in while still maintaining a manageable running time. If you’ve read the book, then you know what happened to Chase Andrews; if not, I wouldn’t dare spoil it here. However, I will say that a variety of more intriguing conclusions were floating around my head by the time I got home, and chances are you’ll have some of your own after reading this review.
Movie Name: Where the Crawdads Sing (2022)
Watch free: Cinemahdv2
Cast Leads: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, David Strathairn, Michael Hyatt
Director: Olivia Newman
Producer: Lauren Levy Neustadter, Betsy Danbury, Rhonda Fehr
Written by: Delia Owens, Lucy Alibar
Music: Mychael Danna
Director Of Photography: Polly Morgan
Movie Rating: 3.1/5