Directed by: Olivia Newman
Premise: Based on the novel by Delia Owens. In the 1960s, a woman (Daisy Edgar-Jones) lives in isolation in the North Carolina marshlands. When a well-to-do young man turns up dead, she is arrested for murder.
What Works: Much of Where the Crawdads Sing takes place in the wild and the landscape is beautifully photographed. The film has a vivid sense of place which ties well into the story’s themes and central character. Where the Crawdads Sing is the story of Kya, a woman who grew up in a cabin outside of a small North Carolina town. Her mother and siblings fled their abusive father, leaving Kya alone and she has spent the bulk of her life fending for herself and living outside of society. Kya is a denizen of the wilderness and has a detailed understanding of nature. Kya is well played by Daisy Edgar-Jones. She gets Kya’s social anxiety and the character is allowed to be both intelligent and vulnerable. David Strathairn is cast as the attorney defending Kya in the murder trial. Strathairn’s character is an Atticus Finch type motivated by fairness and justice and he’s very likable and fatherly. The story of Where the Crawdads Sing is told out of order with Kya’s life story intercut with the murder trial. The nonlinear narrative generally works and juxtaposes events in Kya’s life with developments in the trial. The coming-of-age story and the legal drama work together and the film satisfies in both genres.
What Doesn’t: Where the Crawdads Sing suffers from an overabundance of polish. The photography of the landscape is beautiful but it is also very travelogue-like in a way that avoids the grit and grime of the marshlands. Instead, the picture often resembles a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Where the Crawdads Sing appears to have been shot digitally, giving the movie a glossy and even plastic feel that is not in keeping with the story’s 1960s time period or the organic subject matter. That flaw is also found in the art direction. The costumes and sets look artificial instead of a lived-in place from sixty years ago. The characters are far too clean, especially Kya. We’re supposed to believe that this woman lived on her own in the woods but Kya always looks like she just walked out of a makeup trailer. The dissonance between the visuals and the story makes the movie unbelievable. The plot has a few incredulous turns as well. The murder case is so circumstantial that it is hard to believe that prosecutors would ever take it to court and the film thoroughly explains why the case against Kya is absurd. The legal argument works against the filmmakers during the epilogue which concludes the picture on a stupid reveal.
Bottom Line: Where the Crawdads Sing is an expensive-looking version of a Lifetime network movie. It is never that believable but the coming-of-age story and the courtroom drama are engaging enough for the movie to appease viewers who enjoyed The Help or The Blind Side.
Episode: #911 (July 31, 2022)