Star Rating:

Where The Crawdads Sing

Director: Olivia Newman

Actors: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Harris Dickinson, Michael Hyatt

Release Date: Friday 22nd July 2022

Genre(s): Drama, Mystery

Running time: 93 minutes

Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is known in her small town as 'Marsh Girl'. In truth, she was left to fend for herself at a young age and has now become a gifted naturalist and writer - but is now also accused of murdering Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson). With the help of her lawyer (David Straithairn), she must answer the town's charges and free herself once again...

'Where The Crawdads Sing' was a publishing blockbuster in 2018, swiftly becoming one of the bestselling books of all time in short order. If you read the book, you'll understand why. There's a very clear throughline in the story, charting the central character Kya's life from near-feral child to fully realised, self-contained woman living on her own in the swamps of North Carolina. It takes in social orders and sexuality, the wild landscapes of the marshes, and its central protagonist has a rich, inner life that adds to the atmosphere that surrounds the story.

Transporting all that to the screen, however, is tough business. What works on paper doesn't always work on screen. Indeed, slavish adherence to the original text rarely, if ever, yields a decent movie adaptation. The best of them understood that some things can be compacted, some things be excised, and some things can be magnified. Watching 'Where The Crawdads Sing', however, nobody is willing to give it a chance to be a movie. Instead, it is merely offering a blindly faithful interpretation of the novel.

Daisy Edgar-Jones is more than capable of leading a movie by herself, and has all of the vulnerability and the hardened strength to believably play someone who's spent much of their life abused and then alone. Everyone else, however, is left with two dimensions to try and make the most out of it. The great David Straithairn is reduced to genial, well-meaning Atticus Finch-type lawyer. Harris Dickinson plays every single jock trope there is. Tate John Smith, likewise, plays every single romantic lead there is. Garret Hedlund, a fantastically underrated actor, does his best to give depth to the angry and abusive father character, but is cut short at every possibility.

Rather than give any of these characters a chance to breathe and create some kind of texture, Lucy Alibar's script and Olivia Newman's direction is concerned with ticking off the major events in the book and getting it all on screen. 'Where The Crawdads Sing' never approaches the source material from some fresh perspective, instead opting for the most basic and obvious interpretation. There's no real sense of depth to any of it, just a collection of scenes and imagery fully realised from the novel, but not given any kind of examination.

As to the ending, it's all so blithely done away with that you're left wondering what was the point of the whole thing in the first place. 'Where The Crawdads Sing' isn't the first novel to fall apart when it hits the screen, nor will it be the last. While it gleans the surface of the novel, it never makes any attempt to dive beneath.

The results are, ultimately, shallow.