"If southern fried mystery and soap opera romance are your cup of teas, Where The Crawdads Sing is for you ..." says Patrick Gibbs.

Film Review: Where The Crawdads Sing

Film Reviews

Where The Crawdads Sing
Director: Olivia Newman

Hello Sunshine
In Theaters 07.15

Every movie has a certain target audience, and that’s something that I try to keep in mind when I go into a film that isn’t aimed at me. Where The Crawdads Sing, the screen adaptation of Delia Owens‘ almost ludicrously bestselling novel, wasn’t exactly made with me in mind.

Where the Crawdads Sing tells the relentlessly sad tale of a girl named Catherine Danielle Clark, or Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones, Fresh, Under The Banner of Heaven), who grows up alone in the marshlands of North Carolina after being abandoned by her family one by one. The “Marsh Girl” becomes something of a local folk legend in Barkley Cove, and not in a good way. Kya keeps to herself and avoids contact with others, save for a kindly couple who operate a small store. When Kya reaches a certain age, however, she discovers boys, and they discover her. Kya has two noteworthy romances: one that leads to more heartbreak and abandonment and one that leads to be being arrested and charged with murder.

Director Olivia Newman, making her feature debut, certainly has an eye for the gorgeous scenery of the Carolina marshes, and Newman sets the scene vividly. Where The Crawdads Sing is pure Hollywood melodrama that exists in a movie world at all times—never in the real one. There’s a perfect glossiness that keeps one’s hair unaffected by intense humidity, make up by dirt and sweat, blood or tears, Still, it’s a world overflowing with atmosphere and easy to get sucked into. 

Where The Crawdads Sing rests heavily on Edgar-Jones’ performance, and she’s a captivating and intensely likable presence who’s easy to root for at all times. David Strathhairn (Good Night, and Good Luck, Nomadland) as Kya’s attorney, Tom Milton, is excellent, as are Sterling Macer, Jr. and Michael Hall as Jumpin’ and Mabel, the kindly Black couple who run the store and take Kya under their wing. When it’s focusing on being a murder mystery and a story of resilience and survival, Where The Crawdads Sings is still a bit overrought, but I found it utterly engrossing. Far less successful is the romantic storyline, in part because I never for a moment bought that actors Taylor John Smith or Harris Dickinson were as young as 20, let alone teenagers. In particular the relationship between Kya and Tate (Smith) spans a long enough period of their teen years that no matter how earnest (if bland) Smith’s performance, he felt totally out of place to me. I also never found myself fully trusting their characters’ intentions, finding Tate to be such a “too good to be true” benevolent soul that my cynical nature found him strangely off putting. 

Where The Crawdads Sing kept me under its spell and glued to the screen, yet when it was over, the more forced elements began to nag me more and more. Where The Crawdads Sing is aimed at the book club crowd, and there’s certainly an audience that’s going to embrace it as a favorite. I’m all for that, and even being outside the target audience, I was solidly entertained most of the way. That being said, there’s a fine line between inspiring tales of survival and sordid misery porn, and I’d really like to see Edgar-Jones in a story where she’s neither physically or emotionally brutalized throughout.

If southern fried mystery and soap opera romance are your cup of teas, Where The Crawdads Sing is for you, and I suspect that fans of the book will make it largely critic proof at the box office. –Patrick Gibbs 

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