Delia Owens’s bestselling novel gets a cinematic adaptation with Where the Crawdads Sing, a mystery drama starring Daisy Edgar-Jones as Catherine “Kya” Clark, a woman who grew up in a North Carolina marsh. Screenwriter Lucy Alibar adapts Owens’ story of a woman finding love and soon being forced to prove her innocence after being accused of murder. Adaptations of novels have proven to be both successful and disastrous in the past, and in the case of this film, we have a result that falls somewhere in the middle. This is a generally investing drama with a captivating lead performance by Edgar-Jones that gets held back by unremarkable storytelling.
The story is, at its core, a character piece. The film introduces the audience to the protagonist as her mother and older sisters abandon their household because of her abusive and alcoholic father. An early scene features a young Kya attending school only to be ridiculed by her peers for living in a marsh. This idea works well in the book, as Kya is nicknamed The Marsh Girl and is considered filthy. However, she appears pretty clean in the film, and the prejudice that Kya faces feels disingenuous as a result.
With scenes like this, the story is supposed to make the audience sympathize with Kya. Director Olivia Newman does a good job of that, especially throughout the rest of the film, as Kya goes through painful experiences and feels alienated by her town. The only issue with this characterization is that pity is the audience’s only feeling for her. A film like Forrest Gump not only makes us feel sorry for the protagonist but also gets us to like him as a person because of his innocence and genuine nature. This movie had the opportunity to showcase a character like this with her inability to read and write, but none of it entirely comes to fruition.
The screenplay effectively uses a nonlinear structure to tell a story that feels worth getting invested in. The main events occur after Kya is put on trial for murder, but the film often cuts to flashbacks that show everything that led up to the victim’s death. The courtroom scenes are well-written, and the way certain events in the trial tie together with details in the flashbacks allows for excellent moments. There is a beautiful emotional center between Kya and Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith), where he teaches her how to read, and a romance sparks between them. The love scenes are gorgeously helmed with Polly Morgan’s phenomenal work behind the camera.
Perhaps the film’s shining light is Edgar-Jones, who carries the weight of Where the Crawdads Sing on her back. Her dramatic performance is outstanding, and she sells the heft of every tragedy life throws in the direction of Kya. Smith gives a likable performance as Tate, and Harris Dickinson’s performance as Chase Andrews feels terrifyingly true to people who exist in real life. Unfortunately, for all of the film’s merits, it gets held back by a slow build-up, undeveloped African-American characters, and a lack of memorable scenes that lead to a shrug-your-shoulders experience. The film has its clichés, but a captivating lead performance and a powerful ending ultimately keep this movie watchable enough for any fans of Owens’s fascinating novel.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 6 equates to “Decent.” It fails to reach its full potential and is a run-of-the-mill experience.
Disclosure: The critic attended the world premiere for ComingSoon’s Where the Crawdads Sing review.