Where the Crawdads Sing
by George Wolf
“I had to do life alone. People don’t stay.”
Well-placed within a novel, those words could have major impact. But when you tell it to a movie audience, the power of your visual medium is wasted. You’re not showing us anything, you’re reading to us.
And like so many of these stories of a special girl who hides in plain sight, the big screen version of the Delia Owens bestseller Where the Crawdads Sing employs voiceover narration too early and too often. That’s disappointing, because the film does have its moments.
Most of those moments come from Daisy Edgar-Jones, who stars as Kya Clark, the “Marsh Girl” of Barkley Cove, NC who’s on trial in the late 1960s for the murder of local rich boy Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson).
Kya won’t agree to a plea deal, and throughout her defense from kindly lawyer Tom Milton (the always reliable David Strathairn), director Olivia Newman weaves in flashbacks of a reclusive young girl who grows up alone in the marshes, somehow emerging closer to Miss Carolina than Nell.
Overthinking it? Maybe, but seeing Beast of the Southern Wild screenwriter Lucy Alibar’s writing credit brings more attention to how often this self-reliance tale leans into fantasy. She and Newman sanitize the southern swamp song for convenience, replacing realistic grit with a makeover-in-waiting.
But if you haven’t read the book, there is a surprise or two in store, and a nuanced turn from Edgar-Jones (Fresh, TV’s Normal People and War of the Worlds) that stands out in a parade of broadly-brushed role players.
The lessons about classism and misogyny may be admirable, but they’re as obvious and as soft-peddled as the quick glimpses of racism and the idyllic marsh environment that’s somehow free of thunderstorms or bug bites.
Where the Crawdads Sing does Southern Gothic like Justin Beiber doing Delta blues. You’ll recognize the words and music, but any true feeling is bogged down by all the polish.