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‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ Goes from Beguiling to Snooze-Worthy

Delia Owens' bestseller gets flattened by flashbacks, dull dialogue

Olivia Newman’s “Where the Crawdads Sing” has been effectively marketed by its studio as an event movie based on a popular novel.

It’s not the first time a bestselling book has been made into a dud of a movie, though it is disheartening that Reese Witherspoon (acting as producer) and other talented film artists worked on a project with so little impact.

As a majorly hyped adaptation of a bestselling novel, it’s nowhere near the one-two punch of the novel and film of “Gone Girl” (2014) but is on par with the disposable “The Girl on the Train” (2016).

I recently stalked the books aisle at Target with a friend, looking for a copy of “Where the Crawdads Sing,” only to find it was entirely sold out. I wonder if that will be the case a month from now, after everyone has seen this middle-of-the-road movie.

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING - Official Trailer (HD)

Daisy Edgar-Jones stars as Kya, who lives alone with her abusive father next to a marsh in North Carolina. When everyone in Kya’s family deserts her, she’s left alone to raise herself and becomes a town outcast, referred to as “The Marsh Girl.”

The story toggles between 1969, with Kya on trial for murder, and ample flashbacks to the 1950s, where we see Kya come out of hiding, fall in love and develop her abilities as an artist.

I liked Edgar-Jones’ performance, but the characterization is shallow. There are too many unanswered questions about how Kya could have raised herself alone in a cabin.

She hardly seems like a “Marsh Girl,” as she’s the most attractive character in the movie, sporting make up, perfect hair and clean wardrobe in every scene. I know it’s a movie, but this is akin to a Disney depiction of childhood trauma. The character should come across like Sissy Spacek for most of “Carrie” (1976) not Mandy Moore in “A Walk to Remember” (2002).

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Her good work and the initial hook of the mystery kept me intrigued, until the whole thing idles for so long, it’s as though the filmmakers stopped caring about providing an answer to the central question.

Edgar-Jones was good in the recent “Fresh” (which appeared on Hulu) as well, though these two 2022 starring roles make me hope that lead roles in better films are in her near future. David Strathairn plays Kya’s attorney and gives the most spirited performance in the film.

The supporting actors are good, but the characters are all one note. The dialog is overly self-conscious, sounding like commentary from the screenwriter and not actual spontaneous thought. In fact, the entire film has that problem: this always seems like a movie and never something that could have actually happened.

Perhaps on the written page, it plays more plausibly, but as adapted into a film, there’s something artificial about the whole thing.


By the midpoint, I went from wondering whodunit to questioning when this dull, tepid drama will finally get moving.

I was taken by the story at first, until it resorts to becoming a variation on “The Notebook” (2004) by the second act. The flashback structure is a big problem, as it elongates a predictable love story, distances us from any suspense of learning the outcome and makes the court case feel longer than the O.J. Simpson trial.

I didn’t read the 2018 book by Delia Owens, though that shouldn’t be a prerequisite to appreciating the film. In fact, whether it’s Harry Potter or “Waiting to Exhale” (1995) or “The Right Stuff” (1983) any film adaptation should stand on its own and succeed at being its own thing, regardless of committing to being entirely faithful or only showing some fidelity to the source material.

Are there movies that are better than the books they’re based on? Definitely – Rob Reiner’s “Misery” (1990) is way at the top of my list and it’s not an isolated case. Nevertheless, a great movie ought to inspire us to seek out the source material.

The location may be exotic for some, but this is the same rich/poor class divide and tortured romance of both “Pretty in Pink” (1986) and “The Notebook” (2004), to name a few. More immediacy is given here to the romantic triangle and whether Kya will be published over the outcome of the murder trial, which is a clear sign something went wrong.

Newman’s film is so overly drawn out and devoid of grit, any suspense and character depth has been whittled down to dust.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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I loved the music score by Mychael Danna. “Carolina” by Taylor Swift, which plays over the end credits, is one of the best movie songs of 2022. It also looks great – in fact, too picture perfect, too pretty for something that’s supposed to be fairly sinister.

After drawing out the story for much longer than expected, the story finally lands on a big reveal, which I will not spoil or hint at. However, I will say that the answer to the big question is such an anticlimactic letdown, the filmmakers would have been better off concluding with an ambiguous cliffhanger.

Had someone told me how this movie ended beforehand, I wouldn’t have wasted my time for a conclusion sporting so little punch.

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Unlike the recent, artificially similar mini-series adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s “Sharp Objects” (2018), with its terrifying gut punch of a last-minute unveiling of the big twist, “Where the Crawdads Sing” seems determined to soften the impact of the big secret and leaving us unfulfilled.

Compared to, say, the big, shocking whammy of a last scene of “Presumed Innocent” (1990), this is akin to a longwinded joke with no punchline.

There are a few things here I liked, but the cumulative effect made me nickname this “Where the Turkey Gobbles” on my walk to the parking garage. I know, juvenile and dumb, but then, so is “Where the Crawdads Sings.”

Two Stars

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One Comment

  1. Thank you for this interesting and compelling review. I was looking forward to see it but I fear after reading your review I would be reaching a similar conclusion. Movies based on Books is always walking a razor’s edge. Book fans are more rabid sometimes than movie fans when it comes to the treatment of the work on the silver screen. I will save my movie theater monies for other fare. This I will see only if I don’t have to pay for it; either on a ‘Free Preview weekend’ of a premium channel like HBO. STARZ etc. or on Broadcast TV.

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