There’s something refreshing in the old-fashionedness of the Where the Crawdads Sing adaptation, which in the watching put me in the mind of the handsome American dramas and dramadies of eighties and nineties Hollywood cinema. Viewed in a slightly different light or register, and this could play alongside On Golden Pond or Terms of Endearment or The Green Mile, films of varied quality that nevertheless presented a warm, domestic Americana and then drew drama from out of its depths. There isn’t a trace of irony in the entirety of Crawdads’ runtime, only total earnestness, itself a strange balm in the days of mainstream cinema that seems to bend over backwards to assure you that none of it is that serious, to remind you constantly that what you’re watching isn’t entirely real. Maybe it was just the thrill of watching a mainstream film on a gigantic screen where, generally, one felt they were watching real locations, rather than green-screened ones (though, to be fair green-screen is sparingly utilised here, often in such howlingly poor fashion that its deployment in itself recalls nineties cinema as well).
This overly-manicured adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name is an oddly reserved and clunky thing that nevertheless recalls both classic soap operas and old-fashioned swooning romances in the telling.
The book Where the Crawdads Sing, which I haven’t read, is a gigantic hit, promising both strong potential box-office and, often, a vicious critical and fan-based backlash. I cannot speak to whether the book’s fans will appreciate this adaptation, or whether the film’s star Daisy Edgar-Jones does right by its central figure of Kya, the mysterious girl who largely raised herself in the marshes and lowlands of a small North Carolina town, earning herself the nickname ‘The Marsh Girl’. Edgar-Jones, who looks as though she may never have experienced a trace of dirt on her skin in her life, nevertheless creates something compelling in Kya, who survived an abusive household as a child and claimed the rich natural world surrounding her house as her own after her family fled one by one. Kya as a character is an odd blend of flinty modern heroine and old fashioned fairy princess, at once a tougher-than-nails survivalist and one too fragile and innocent for the world beyond the marsh. The film is most interested in the love triangle that forms between her and two men, even more so than the murder trial set later in Kya’s life that serves as the framing device for the film. Taylor John Smith and Harris Dickinson respectively play a good-ole-boy fisherman’s son and preening, violent townie cad, but both feel slightly miscast, neither of them having especially sizzling chemistry nor a feeling of danger or sensuality when in contact with Kya. Elsewhere, character actors get brief moments to shine in supporting roles, notably David Strathairn as a kind-hearted lawyer, exuding saintliness, and Garrett Dillahunt as the tormented patriarch of Kya’s family, doing a lot with a little.
The story is, all things considered, a soap opera, but an effective one at that if the viewer is willing to surrender to its mercilessly controlled rhythms. The film is set in the fifties and sixties, but seems entirely divorced from the enormous social upheavals occurring in the United States at the time, an intriguing and perhaps troubling decision for a film that positions its central character (a beautiful, reserved, chaste white woman who again seems incapable of inspiring true hatred in anyone) as an outsider loathed and shunned by her community, and seen as a second-class citizen. It is a missed opportunity to connect this story to a wider context, but perhaps a canny choice from a film so focussed on the teeming soap operatics of its love triangle. The ending ‘twist’, meanwhile, is handled in a way that eschews salaciousness and violence for an elegant denouement that feels well-wed to the film’s outlook. It’s a sleepy, overcooked thing, but one not without its own gentle charms.
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING IS IN CINEMAS NOW
Where the Crawdads Sing
Movie title: Where the Crawdads Sing (Olivia Newman, 2022)
Movie description: This overly-manicured adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name is an oddly reserved and clunky thing that nevertheless recalls both classic soap operas and old-fashioned swooning romances in the telling.
Date published: July 21, 2022
Author: Delia Owens, Lucy Alibar
Director(s): Olivia Newman
Actor(s): Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller