Directed by: Olivia Newman
Written by: Lucy Alibar
Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, David Strathairn, Michael Hyatt, Sterling Macer Jr
Released: July 21, 2022
Grade: B-

Where the Crawdads Sing

North Carolina, 1969.  The body of a young man has been found at the bottom of a fire tower in the middle of an expansive swamp.  A twenty-something-year-old woman, Kya (Edgar-Jones), is on trial having been charged with his murder.  The prosecution argue that the pair fought and Kya pushed him from the tower’s outer balcony.  With a guilty verdict likely to lead to a death sentence, Kya puts forward a different set of facts which point towards her innocence.

The trial is the most interesting element of Where the Crawdads Sing.  From To Kill A Mockingbird to My Cousin Vinney to A Few Good Men, I’m a sucker for courtroom spectacles where a seemingly weaker party tries to outsmart and outmanoeuvre the other side.  It’s not a flashy role but Oscar nominee David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) is very good as the subdued, experienced defence lawyer working in Kya’s best interests.

Unfortunately, the court scenes are fleeting.  They help maintain the film’s energy but the bulk of time is spent on flashbacks across the 1950s and 60s which serve as mini biography of Kya’s life.  We understand more about her tough childhood where she was abandoned by her mother and raised by her alcoholic father.  We learn she is looked down upon by townsfolk and referred to as “the Marsh Girl” because of her shy nature and the rundown swamp shack she calls home.  We see her fall in love for the first time with a patient teenager, Tate (Smith), who offers good looks and a kind heart.

These scenes are necessary but I’d argue they aren’t overly interesting.  It comes across as a generic romantic drama where the dialogue is stiff and the character development is unfulfilling.  Kya is an intriguing individual.  You’d expect that given she spent her teenage years living alone and learning how to fend for herself.  However, it’s a struggle to get inside her head and reconcile some of the choices she makes.  I don’t think I knew her that much better during the closing credits as I did during the opening ones.

Perhaps more detail is on offer in the novel authored by American Delia Owens upon which the film was based.  Reese Witherspoon picked it as part of her public book club in September 2018 and, sensing its potential as a movie, she optioned the film rights through her production company, Hello Sunshine.  I’ve heard it’s a good read (at least that’s what my boss says) but something has gone missing in translation with chunks of the film feeling like a corny, trashy Mills & Boon romance.

English actress Daisy Edgar-Jones (Norman People) is admirable in the lead role and composer Mychael Danna (Life of Pi) deserves credit for his seductive music score but Where ihe Crawdads Sing needed a better script to fully draw me in.

You can read my chat with director Olivia Newman by clicking here.