Daisy Edgar-Jones in "Where The Crawdads Sing"

Where The Crawdads Sing Review: They Aren’t Singing On Screen

Nicholas Sparks called, he wants his story back.

Based on the best-selling novel by Delia Owens, Where The Crawdads Sing is a southern-fried melodrama that unfortunately cannot tell a tonally coherent—or intriguing—story.

Crawdads tells the story of Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a girl left to her own devices after her family abandons her in the marshlands of North Carolina. Cut off and shunned as the shoeless “marsh girl” by the residents of neighbouring Barkley Cove, Kya remains isolated through her youth and her teenage years until she catches the eye of two local men (Taylor John Smith and Harris Dickinson).

When one of the men is found dead, she quickly finds herself the prime suspect in the resulting investigation. As the residents eagerly throw themselves into their pseudo-witch hunt for the strange marsh girl, the murky truth slowly begins to rise to the surface.

Ultimately, Olivia Newman’s feature directorial debut is a disappointing one and her inexperience behind the camera is readily apparent. Her Where The Crawdads Sing fails to capture what made the popular novel such a page-turner. Where the original Deep South murder mystery floated, this adaptation surely sinks—a pale, watered-down version of its literary predecessor. Despite the prestige of its source material and big-named producer Reese Witherspoon, the final film feels more like a Nicholas Sparks adaptation than anything that may have been promised leading up to the movie’s release.

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While Kya sits in a courtroom, and the movie meanders through unintentionally funny montages and flashbacks, it becomes clear that no one behind the camera is quite sure what story they are trying to tell. It’s too tame for a sweaty summer romance, too mild to be a swamp thriller, and too slow and sleepy to deliver much of a mystery. By the time the film’s big plot “twist” arrives, there has been so little build-up that it barely registers.

Where Crawdads does shine is in its casting, though one wishes this talented bunch had much more to do. Edgar-Jones is well-chosen here for her first major lead role since her breakout in Normal People (and in the excellent Fresh). While she is a pleasure to watch on screen, she’s given little more to do than stare wistfully out at the marsh and pace around her cabin. The same goes for the men of the movie, with Smith and Dickinson working hard to rise above the bland broad strokes provided by the script. And though it is always a pleasure to see David Strathairn on screen, his Atticus Finch-lite role as Kya’s lawyer feels ripped out of an episode of Law & Order—and a bad one at that. In supporting roles as two shop owners, Michael Hyatt and Sterling Macer Jr. are left with roles that barely amount to the barest sketch of a stereotype.

There is little doubt that there is a summer weekend matinee audience for this and the Sparks crowd may very well enjoy it too. But, with too many loose ends and tonal shifts, Where The Crawdads Sing is ultimately a disappointment for failing to live up to its own potential.

Where The Crawdads Sing arrives in theatres on July 15.

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