I miss the days when a literary hit could become a blockbuster, regardless of the genre. Sure, there are the Stephen King adaptations that are scrutinized and obsessed over, but things like Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go or Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes are somewhat few and far between in a landscape where every lead character is contractually obligated to wear a cape. Author Delia Owens is in some trouble, but her novel struck a chord with the likes of the Reese Witherspoon book club and pop sensation Taylor Swift (who wrote a song about the novel for fun, which wound up being included in the film) and these things led to a film adaptation.
How’s the movie? That’s more complicated.
Our story centers around Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones) as she is arrested for the murder of local horn-dog Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson). Her lawyer, Tom Milton (David Strathairn), urges her to take a plea bargain. The girl’s refusal comes from a certain sense of pride, hard-won as she struggled to feel relevant her whole life. See, Kya is referred to as the “Marsh Girl” by most of the town. Subject to rumors and urban legend, she has quietly hidden away from the people that shun her to live alone in a cabin near the North Carolina shores. Now that she’s in the courtroom, it’ll be up to a myriad of unconfirmed evidence, local lore, and established prejudices as to whether or not she gets off.
We also get many a flashback to her childhood. It is depressing.
Crawdads isn’t a bad film by any means, but it’s one that exists on the merits of a novel and this complicates the narrative. Kya lives in the marsh, alone since she was quite young, and she looks like a movie star (which Daisy Edgar-Jones rightfully should be). All the money she earns plucking mussels from the muck seems to be going to designer hair products, skincare routines, and excellent dental work. If it’s not then I don’t know what to tell you, she’s just superhuman.
That transcendence of humanity is both the thing that will save the movie for some audiences and condemn it for others, leaving it caught between two types of filmgoers that have no interest in meeting in the middle. The sheen on top of this rather grimy story (complete with open racism, sexual assault, an abusive and alcoholic father, and enough dirty clothing on children to make me worry about staph infection) takes quite a bit away from what it could have been. This is a dirty, mean little story about someone that is beaten down, abandoned, and hated…but is so compellingly lovely and charming that it’s hard to buy the town’s dislike and fear of her.
Those that buy into the shiny top layer are going to have a lot to enjoy. Love interest Tate Walker, played by Archie-lookalike Taylor John Smith, is about as hot as a milquetoast movie idol can get. He somehow has decent chemistry with Edgar-Jones, who is putting in so much more work than he is (which is warranted by the film’s script) and still managing to meet him halfway. This relationship will carry much of the film, but it seems to be the only part of the story that didn’t quite make it from page to screen.
Often these blockbuster novel adaptations are saved by a hell of a score. That’s a shame in this instance, as Mychael Danna’s work is so very standard that you’d forget it was there if it weren’t for the siren’s call that overtakes most of the music. It’s a lovely tone, haunting and melodious at first, but its constant presence takes away from what power it has in more meaningful moments. This naturalistic sound, complete with the juxtaposition between man and nature via wind-chime effects, would be better utilized in small increments instead of the overbearing amount that the composer chose.
Where the Crawdads Sing is a movie I quite enjoyed despite its issues. There’s a lot to frustrate me but…damnit if this isn’t extremely watchable. There’s not a bad performance, merely ones that are satisfactory and that fade in the shadow of what Daisy Edgar-Jones is doing (though David Straithairn is giving her a run for her money). I’d have a hard time recommending this to anyone, but I wouldn’t turn you away. It was a good time at the movies, but I’m not sure it needed to be a silver-screen experience.
Where the Crawdads Sing is currently in theatres.