Where the Crawdads Sing
A rote and character-dry romance drama, notably lacking in crawdads.
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I went into this with minimal expectations of any sort. I haven’t read the New York Times best-selling novel, by Delia Owen, upon which it’s based, but I was interested in seeing the movie per my girlfriend’s enthusiasm for the book. She reads a lot. I don’t. She reads a book and tells me to watch the movie. This is how we operate. I think she has the better end of this deal.
Unfortunately, it sounds like this film fails just about any nuance or detail that makes the book stand out. Where the Crawdads Sing is a barebones romance-drama-meets-courtroom-movie that makes exactly one interesting narrative deviation from the norm—and that doesn’t even arrive until the film’s final seconds.
Daisy Edgar-Jones stars as Kya, an orphaned young woman raised in and by the North Carolina bayou, known to the nearby townsfolk as “Marsh Girl.” Her abusive father failed to teach her much beyond survival before he dipped out, so when a young man who lived nearby growing up, Tate (Taylor John Smith), comes over offering to teach her to read, she accepts, and in turn teaches him about the wildlife of the bayou.
That’s part of the narrative, anyway. The film actually starts later on, with Kya hiding from police in the marshes as they investigate her home after the suspected murder of Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson). He fell off a nearby watchtower, and it’s thought by officials that he was pushed. The proximity to Kya’s home, and the fact that she had once been in a relationship with Chase, makes her the prime suspect.
Throughout the film, we flash back and forth between the criminal investigation and various points in Kya’s past—from childhood to meeting Tate, her first love, to eventually moving on and finding Chase. The flashbacks are mainly romantic affairs—Kya with either Tate or Chase, sitting in a field, under a tree, or on the beach, looking at each other and tenderly spouting the old standards of young love. Stuff you’ve seen a thousand times.
Unfortunately, we don’t really get a chance to know anybody besides Kya all that well (or even Kya, really, on an emotional level), so none of her relationships, romantic or otherwise, are especially compelling. David Strathairn stars as Kya’s defense attorney in the trial, Tom Milton, and does what he can to make the character a good and upright man who refuses to judge Kya for her social label as an outcast. The same goes for Michael Hyatt and Sterling Macer Jr. as Mabel and Jumpin’, a couple that owns the local general store and take care of Kya in the little ways they can.
But even these rather likable and positive presences in Kya’s life aren’t afforded the depth by the script, or the time on screen to make them feel essential or knowable, despite effective performances from their respective actors. It’s a similar case for Tate and Chase, who are meant to be opposite sides of a love coin for Kya, but are too thinly developed—and, at times, written too similarly—to really care who wins her heart… that is, until it becomes abundantly clear who really shouldn’t.
What we’re left with is 2 hours of movie that feel like stitched-together segments from other, slightly less-mediocre movies. Lifetime or Hallmark fare. The romance, criminal investigation, and trial each follow bog-standard procedure and make no real attempt to surprise or engage with you as a viewer, except with its last breath.
The familiar romance and courtroom melodrama will probably make for some enjoyable comfort-food for many; it’s just not my idea of a good time. But if you’re into that, rest-assured, there’s plenty of Nicholas Sparks-esque fare here, and it’s supported well enough by a decent cast.
Where the Crawdads Sing is by no means the worst thing I’ve seen this year. That title currently belongs to Jurassic World Dominion. But the two films share an unfortunate commonality: both titles reference cool animals (crawdads and dinosaurs, respectively) that are effectively absent from the film. In Crawdad’s case, that’s literal. I don’t think I saw a single one! What a waste.