Where the Crawdads Sing is another example of the familiar love triangle trope that the Twilight Saga or the Hunger Games franchise has used to perfection to forward their stories in each installment of the books and films. It was used to good effect in this film as well.
Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar Jones, Jojo Regina) is a girl affectionately known as “The Marsh Girl.” She lives with her family alongside a series of canals leading to the ocean in North Carolina in the 1950s and ’60s. One by one, they all leave due to the abusive behavior of their father/husband (Garret Dillahunt). The only one left is young Kya until, eventually, her father himself leaves. Young Kya is all on her own. She grows up on the marsh, learning to fish for mussels to make ends meet and teaching herself to read. She starts to draw what she sees around her, from the shells to the insects and the wildlife. This becomes her way of life until those pesky boys come around.
This is where the love triangle gets introduced to the story. A young boy named Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith), who she ran across on her boat as a child, is now all grown up, and he is interested in the now teenage Kya. She takes to him quickly, and they hit it off until he goes to college. This doesn’t sit well with her. She’s pretty sad for a while but eventually gets over it and meets another boy named Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson). He’s a pretty popular boy in town and is even a quarterback for his local football team. He is also fascinated by her and wants their relationship to blossom. The problem is he’s hiding a secret, and this causes a rift between the two young people. When Tate comes back into the picture, this is where the love triangle gets complicated.
This film has multiple layers to it that fans of the book by the author Delia Owens. This book became a worldwide bestseller and got on the coveted Reese Witherspoon book list. This story meant a lot to many people, primarily women and older teenage girls. It’s the kind of story they love — where a young woman is swooning over two hot boys, but she can only have one of them.
The film has some very good cinematography from Polly Morgan. She brings these marshes of the North Carolina barrier reefs to life. Beautiful sunsets and sunrises are combined with various scenes of woods and beaches to create a backdrop of lush greens and a perfect setting for this film. The little fictional town of Barkley Cove, North Carolina is an additional touch that makes this story very authentic and makes this story come to life. It’s a quaint little town with a beautiful cove as its backdrop.
An added side plot to this film of a murder mystery ties the entire film together: a trial that was fine but will not be considered one of the best in recent memory. It’s adequate to help tell the overarching story of the book. The director Olivia Newman does a competent job taking the elements from the book and bringing them to life vividly in color.
Still, there were a few issues I had with her direction. One of the things that stuck out for me was the pristine cleanliness and newness of everything. This film takes place in the south in the ’50s and ’60s. There was only one scene in which Regina/Edgar Jones was actually dirty: when she was a kid running around in the mud in her bare feet. After that, she had new clothes, and the shack she lived in, which she called a house, seemed pretty and clean. This didn’t sit well with me. She should have been covered in dirt living the way she did, and being on that marsh, she should have been wet more often.
Where the Crawdads Sing mostly relied on the love triangle to do a lot of the heavy lifting in the script, but a few supporting roles, most notably from Academy Award-nominated actor David Strathairn as a defense lawyer, stood out to me. Edgar Jones and the others were fine in the film, but I didn’t feel the chemistry that the story needed to build the tension it emptied that was going on between the three main characters. This was a bit disappointing until we got a twist that brought everything together in the end.
This film had a few things that didn’t jive with me, but in the end, there was enough for me to recommend it. The cinematography was gorgeous, and the story worked despite a lack of chemistry between the three leads. David Strathern is always a delight to see in any film or television project and stands out in this film. The subplot of a murder mystery worked well opposite the main story, and Edgar Jones as Kya was worth the price of admission. Fans of the book should be happy with the outcome of this film, directed by Olivia Newman.
3 1/2 stars
Dan Skip Allen
Sean Boelman Founder/EIC disappointment media