Movie Review: 'Where the Crawdads Sing'
I wanted more swamp and less courtroom from Where the Crawdads Sing.
Where the Crawdads Sing is too cowardly to be the kind of unconventional movie it could be. The story of a young woman raising herself in a South Carolina Swamp, Where the Crawdads Sing has an intriguing idea at heart but fails to capitalize on that idea. Instead, the film, and, I am told, the book, fall back on a conventional courtroom story to carry the drama. There is nothing wrong with a good courtroom mystery but it needs to be better than your average episode of Law & Order television episode or it needs to be scrapped. Crawdads fails that test.
Where the Crawdads Sing tells the story of Kya Clark, played as a child by Jojo Regina and Leslie France, and played as an adult by Daisy Edgar Jones, is known as ‘The Marsh Girl." The judgmental nickname is given to Kya by residents of the town closest to her swamp home. Kya’s family each left the marsh years ago, a series of leavings that are covered in a well crafted montage, while Kya chose to stay. At first, Kya stayed to care for her alcoholic father, played by Garret Dillahunt. Eventually, Kya just came to love the marsh and after finding ways to care for herself, she stayed.
As an adult, Kya found herself drawn to two different young men. Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) shares Kya’s passion for the outdoors and they appear to be soulmates. Tate however, has a dream to go to college and become an ecologist so he can further study the marsh. His leaving for college causes a massive rift between himself and Kya, one that won’t be repaired right away. The other man to enter Kya’s life is far different and potentially dangerous.
Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) is the troubled child of rich parents. He first sees Kya as a conquest but eventually he reveals a vulnerability that appeals to Kya. That vulnerability turns out to be a trap and the relationship between Chase and Kya becomes abusive. When Chase winds up dead in the marsh, it looks like an accident but some evidence points to Kya and she ends up on trial for her life. Only a kindly lawyer, played by Oscars nominee David Straithairn takes Kya’s side and becomes her advocate in court.
I was quite interested in Kya’s life in the marsh. The romance between Tate and Kya was quite lovely but it was the scenes of Kya learning to take care of herself and Kya finding a way to learn and grow and find stability while still living in the marsh that provides the best drama in Where the Crawdads Sing. It’s only when we are stuck in the courtroom that we get bogged down in overly conventional storytelling.
The conventional elements of Where the Crawdads Sing detract from the very unique marsh story. I know that the trial aspect is a big element of the book as well, but it plays in the movie as a grave weakness on the part of director Olivia Newman and screenwriter Lucy Alibar. As structured within the film, the trial aspect plays as if they didn’t have enough confidence in the marsh girl story and needed the conventional trial mystery to carry the movie, make it more mainstream and palatable to a wide audience.
Whether it comes off that way in the book, I have no idea, I haven’t read it. I can only judge how the film uses the trial aspect. As it is, the trial provides the clothesline on which a series of flashbacks to the marsh are hung. It’s not needed, the trial mystery feels desperate, it feels like a nod to what audiences want as opposed to an artistic choice. It’s a shame because the marsh and swamp scenes are lovely and star Daisy Edgar Jones thrives in these scenes.
Where the Crawdads Sing could have been made without the trial scenes. You could even keep the murder/accidental death story but stay out of the courtroom. Keep the story in the marsh, stay in Kya’s world, and the movie could have been a very good character study. Sadly, the conventional trial plot introduces massive plot contrivances that are compounded by a convoluted ending that left me quite unsatisfied.
If you are already a fan of the book Where the Crawdads Sing perhaps you might enjoy the movie. For me, the movie missed the mark by falling back on the too familiar tropes of a courtroom mystery. Where the Crawdads Sing is in theaters now.