Where the Crawdads Sing
The strength of Where the Crawdads Sing is its sense of location. Based on a tremendously popular 2018 novel by Delia Owens, it largely takes place in the marshes of North Carolina during the 1960s. The trees, the swamp, the calling of the birds, the whirring of the boat engines; all of this combines to create a mood that turns out to be an effective mixture of nostalgia and regret. Every scene taking place at or near its central location, an isolated house in the marsh, is lifted by the movie’s clear respect for the area.
The plot itself is a cliché romance/courtroom drama about not judging a book by its cover and believing in one’s own value. It is fine, but any nuance that may have existed in the novel is definitely lacking here. The dialogue has a tendency to get in its own way with awkward exposition and narration that explains too much and not enough at the same time. The star performance is solid and director Olivia Newman does the audience a service by allowing us to linger with her protagonist in the area she calls her home. Unfortunately, those qualities are overwhelmed by the screenplay’s glaring weaknesses.
When a small-town big-shot is found dead, the sheriff suspects foul play and arrests Kya, an outcast who has lived in the marsh by herself since she was a young girl. Most of the 121 minute (without the end credits) running time of Where the Crawdad Sings bounces between showing Kya’s life in flashback and showing her murder trial.
Kya’s tale is a sad one that sees her abandoned by her family at a young age and ostracized by the townspeople for living differently than they do. She is courageous both as a girl and as a young woman, figuring out how to survive on her own in a place where the majority are uncomfortable with her very existence.
Daisy Edgar-Jones does not play Kya as someone who needs to be civilized. She may be uneducated, yet she is street smart (so to speak). It is highly unlikely any other character in this story could have endured like she did. Her kindness, resourcefulness and determination act as a shield over her massive feelings of loneliness. Kya is basically supposed to be taken at face value, so there isn’t much depth to her. Still, Edgar-Jones makes her easy to like, even if she sometimes felt like a plot device.
Everyone else is even more of a stereotype. There is The First Love, The Arrogant Rich Kid, The Kindly Retired Lawyer Who Takes Her Case For Some Reason and The Paternal Black Couple Who Come To Think Of The White Girl As Their Daughter. It is so obvious what the role of these characters will be as soon as they appear that they might as well be wearing a sign telling the audience why they were included. At least Kya feels like she gets some agency; the rest are just going through the predetermined motions. Where the Crawdads Sing really needed a supporting character who felt like an actual person, so that Kya’s story could feel a little bit like it takes place in the real world.
The marsh looks great, but otherwise the movie is oddly dark-looking for a story that ends up being sort of hopeful. Daisy Edgar-Jones does her best, though the screenplay is clunky and unconvincing. Add to that several unintentionally funny moments (the courtroom audience gasping literally every single time there is any type of revelation would be a hilarious running gag, if this were a comedy) and you get a poor adaptation of a novel so beloved that I have to believe the source material is much more compelling than this.
2½ out of 5
Daisy Edgar-Jones as Kya Clark
Taylor John Smith as Tate Walker
Harris Dickinson as Chase Andrews
David Strathairn as Tom Milton
Michael Hyatt as Mabel
Sterling Macer Jr. as Jumpin’
Directed by Olivia Newman
Screenplay by Lucy Alibar