Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, Where the Crawdads Sing tells a rather compelling story of a young child-turned-woman of very limited means, who manages to survive and thrive, despite the abusive environment that she endures. To be perfectly honest, I had never previously heard about the book, and thusly, have not read it. However, I am now aware that this story has captured the hearts of many people who have such high hopes for this cinematic adaptation. That said, now that I have watched the movie version, and have done some limited research into what the book offers, I can honestly state that this adaptation will probably disappoint most of the fans. At the same, the film could still appeal to those who are fine with a movie adaptation being inferior to the source material.
This is the story of Catherine “Kya” Clark, a young lady growing up in a fictionalized North Carolina marsh community between 1952 and 1969. As a young child, Kya (Jojo Regina) endures and witnesses physical and verbal abuse caused by her father towards her, her mother and her siblings. At one point, things get so violent that her mother and her siblings run away from home. Since she is so young, Kya has no choice, but to remain under her father’s care, but decides to tread rather cautiously.
Eventually, her father disappears, and the young child decides to stay home and fend for herself. With the help of local shop owners Jumpin (Sterling Macer, Jr.), his wife Mabel (Michael Wyatt), and dear friend Tate (Luke David Blumm as a child, Taylor John Smith as a teen/adult), Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) grows up into her teen years and learns to read and write, while developing an artistic talent for drawing and painting the wildlife that lives in her environment. As Kya and Tate grow close and more romantically involved, he faces a difficult decision when the time comes for him to leave for college. During his departure, Kya gets into a relationship with the local football star Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson). While he initially seems caring and compassionate, Kya eventually discovers his more violent and abusive side.
Based on the book by Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing, the movie, manages to deliver a compelling and riveting story, despite the shortcomings of the screenwriting and directorial choices. It seems that the book has so much going on within it, that screenwriter Lucy Alibar and director Olivia Newman could not quite handle all of the intracracies the novel presents. In addition, the development of the characters is definitely undercooked and is so lacking, that the entire affair often feels rather melodramatic, like a soap opera.
That is not to say that I absolutely hated this movie. In watching this film, and reading about the source material, I feel that the filmmakers struggled to make the characters feel more organic, and less like characters in a fictionalized story. All of the elements are there! The issues of abuse, the ability for the Kya character to survive, evolve, learn, and defend herself are all there for development into a better movie, but the filmmakers struggle to condense these things into a film that is as natural and tangible as the environment in which Kya develops.
On the positive side, the cinematography by Polly Morgan and all of its gorgeous visuals does an exceptional job of immersing the audience into this world. And the actors do a solid job with their characters, with a few exceptions here and there. Daisy Edgar-Jones gives a rather good performance as the sweet shy, but intelligent and strong Kya Clark. As Tate, Taylor John Smith is charismatic as the truly caring love interest. Actor David Straithairn also performs well as local attorney Tom Milton. As Chase, the more villainous character of the story, Harris Dickinson isn’t completely convincing, but still has his moments in the movie.
And while most of the cast members perform solidly, and the cinematography is beautiful, the writing is what holds this movie back from being an exceptional bit of filmmaking and storytelling. Again, I didn’t totally dislike this movie, but feel that it had the potential of being so much more. I still moderately recommend Where the Crawdads Sing, as an introduction to this remarkable story, but feel that the more ardent fans of the novel will be ultimately disappointed.