Where the Crawdads Sing Review: Bestseller Becomes Brilliant Summer Movie

Anchored by a solid performance from Daisy Edgar-Jones, this film gets to the heart of the Delia Owens book club phenomenon, for better or for worse.

We may never know the full truth about Delia Owens’ checkered past as a conservationist – which almost certainly seems to include a militant, white-saving approach to policing Zambian wildlife reserves, and may also extend to being a “co-conspirator and accomplice”. to murder – but the ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ author’s secret to success is now as obvious as his plot, even to those of us who had never heard of the runaway bestseller until until Taylor Swift invented it a few weeks ago. Olivia Newman’s smooth and shiny beach reading (“First Match”) of a film adaptation brings it all to the surface. Which is just as well, because the surface is the only layer of this film.

Yes, it’s a cleverly crafted melodrama about the challenge of being abandoned, and of course, it’s also a mildly self-exempting caricature of a natural woman untouched by Western society. But beneath the story’s wet romance with the Carolina swamps and behind its Hollywood backwater Americana facade, “Where the Crawdads Sing” is really just a swampy riff on “Pygmalion,” with Eliza Doolittle reimagined as a semi-wild outsider who is obviously the sexiest girl in town, but lives in almost complete seclusion until Barkley Cove’s Zack Siler teaches her to read and kiss.

Simplified from its source material using a script by Lucy Aliber that embraces the moss of Owens’ book while lowering the temperature of its flowery, nature is my real mom storytelling, the movie version of “Where the Crawdads Sing” is much more fun as a hothouse page-turner than a moving tale of female self-sufficiency. That he’s able to split the difference between Nicholas Sparks and ‘Nell’ with any measure of believability is a testament to Daisy Edgar-Jones’ careful performance as Kya Clark.

The youngest daughter of an abusive drunk and the only member of his family who remained in their isolated North Carolina home until the day Pa died in the 1950s, Kya’s childhood was spent watching the people who loved her leave one by one (she is played as a child by Jojo Regina). Alone from a young age, and dehumanized in folklore by the “normal” people of the town – especially children, who call her “Marsh Girl” and laugh her to the swamp when she shows up at school without shoes – Kya is forced to survive by selling mussels to the nice black couple who run the local store (Sterling Macer, Jr. as Jumpin’ and Michael Hyatt as his wife Mabel).

A few years later, she will be taken to Barkley Cove prison and forced to stand trial for the murder of a pasty muzzle named Chase Andrews; it is there, at the behest of the retired lawyer (David Strathairn!) who takes her case out of the goodness of her heart, that Kya is finally forced to share her life story for the first time, her voiceover guiding us through the past in snippets of overloaded evocative prose that establish its connection to nature. “Marsh is a space of light,” she coos, “where grass grows in water and water flows in the sky.” In a real time is a flat circle sort of a twist, it often feels like Kya taught herself to write by reading all the other novels that have been canonized by Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club.

Of course, as self-sufficient and capable as Kya is, we soon learn that she learned her letters with the help of the sweet, square-jawed boy who grew up along the creek. Kya’s Joey Potter’s Dawson Leery, Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) is a caring soul who lost his own family, which might explain why he always remembered the orphaned girl everyone in Barkley Cove had. eager to forget. The summer before college, Tate begins leaving Kya’s supplies on a tree stump—as if filling a food trap for a wild animal—only to find that the Marsh Girl has become a movie star. It’s a real honor for Newman to handle the silly, serious tone of her movie that she allows Kya, who has no electricity or running water, to look like she’s wasted all her mussel money. on Pantene Pro-V. Either way, the kisses ensue. Sometimes in the middle of a swirl of leaves in slow motion.

“Where the Crawdads Sing”

Michele K Short

But if Tate thinks the Marsh Girl will still be waiting for him (a girl can’t go this far without shoes), he’ll wake up abruptly; once word gets out that Kya is a total catch, she becomes an irresistible fetish object for the kind of guy who might have less honorable intentions. Enter our waiting corpse, Mr. Chase Andrews. Played by a creepy but somewhat vulnerable Harris Dickinson, who looks so much like Taylor John Smith that his dark-haired character might as well be blonde Tate’s evil twin, Chase likes Kya as a backhanded compliment and even talks to her when he is trying to take her top off. We know he won’t last long, but did he fall off that rickety tower of fire or was he pushed? A girl like Kya, so desperate for someone who might not abandon her, wouldn’t she kill the only person who hasn’t yet?

This question-framing device looms in the background of a film that is far less concerned with how Chase dies and more about how Kya is persecuted for it — the way the Marsh Girl remained innocent despite a lifetime of prejudice. Shy without being sneaky, naive without sounding childish, and in tune with nature without being completely “raised by wolves” (though the prison cat’s instant affinity for her is a bit too much), performance at Edgar-Jones’ wide-eyed completely sells us on Kya’s reality as a survivor. Her soft voice and defensive posture give the character a lilting interiority that holds this film together across multiple timelines.

Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) in Columbia Pictures' WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

“Where the Crawdads Sing”

Michele K. Short

It’s a doubly impressive feat in an adaptation that’s often edited to look like a two-hour montage, a nagging glitch that leaves “Crawdads” a bit off-kilter from its slippery first half to its inelegant coda (though only one first scene of young Kya and Tate yelping at each other from separate boats really borders on “Bohemian Rhapsody” territory). It’s just a shame that the story’s ultra-predictable ending is presented in a way that robs us of the full potential of Edgar-Jones’ performance, while Newman opts for hair-raising inference over primal satisfaction. .

By the same token, “Where the Crawdads Sing” works best when it embraces its own true nature as a popcorn movie. Newman seems to recognize that “and David Strathairn” are the three most beautiful words that can ever appear in the opening credits of a studio film, and she gives the actor the space he needs to walk through a room. sweaty courtroom in a white suit and do we gasp with the small crowd of people who have gathered to witness Kya’s trial. Dickinson textures Chase as well as the script will allow for it, but revels in the character’s inherent punching ability so that the film’s central love triangle never loses its shape. While Jumpin and Mabel still betray the career-long critique that Owens tends to infantilize his black personas, Macer and Hyatt ground their roles in a quiet dignity that pushes the way they may have been written off the page.

As a movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” never seems worthy of the hype that continues to surround the book, but – much like its heroine – Newman’s adaptation finds just enough ways to last.

Grade: C+

Sony Pictures will release “Where the Crawdads Sing” in theaters on Friday, July 15.

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