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Film turns best-selling novel into cheesy melodrama
Review

Film turns best-selling novel into cheesy melodrama

by Tómas Atli Einarsson 3 min. 08.09.2022
"Where the Crawdads Sing" isn't as bad as many say - but suffers from Overstuffed Book Adaptation Syndrome
A crew that didn't manage to attract good reviews. From left to right: Harris Dickinson (chase), producer Reese Witherspoon, Daisy Edgar-Jones (Kya), Taylor John-Smith (Tate) and director Olivia Newman attending the film's premiere in New York in July of this year.
A crew that didn't manage to attract good reviews. From left to right: Harris Dickinson (chase), producer Reese Witherspoon, Daisy Edgar-Jones (Kya), Taylor John-Smith (Tate) and director Olivia Newman attending the film's premiere in New York in July of this year.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Book adaptations don’t always work, and that’s okay. Where the Crawdads Sing trips in a balancing act many other movies have attempted and failed. 

But while a lot of reviews are citing a miscast lead, hokey melodrama and more emotional flatness than an average street artist, I found the film - based on Delia Owens' 2018 novel neither terrible nor terribly good.

In the marshes of 1950s North Carolina, Kya Clark’s family gradually falls apart. One by one, her mother and siblings abandon their shack, leaving the young woman with her father - who eventually bails on her, too. Left to her own devices, Kya grows up self-sufficiently, harvesting mussels for some cash, which breeds a deep-seated passion for nature in her.

But when boys join the mix (first the dreamy and nature-minded Tate, then the cocky and brazen Chase), things become more complicated. At the film’s start, Kya is implicated in Chase’s murder, and we then learn of their turbulent relationship while her true love, Tate was away at college. 

Part Bildungsroman, part murder mystery and with a heavy dose of the barefoot romanticism of great American novels like To Kill a Mockingbird, there’s little wonder that the initial novel sold over 15 million copies. But transferring that magic onto the screen is not as simple as life in the marshes.

More than anything else, an overwhelming sense of corniness steals the show. Shaky computer-enhanced wildlife and just plain bad-looking green screens falsify so much of the nature-based drama. One-dimensional characters straight out of dime novels render the narrative hokey. 

And it’s one of those movies where deadly serious lines are accidentally funny just because of the melodrama with which they’re delivered.

The actors can’t be entirely blamed for the film’s woodenness. Stuffing an entire novel into a two-hour movie is no easy feat, to be sure, and this film too seems to suffer from Overstuffed Book Adaptation Syndrome. 

The first half feels rushed, to the point where the viewer feels sluggishly drunk from watching characters race through their motions, belting out plot-essential feelings at a pace that robs the film of all genuine emotion.

Doe-eyed Kya barely has time to experience the terrible events life has in store for her, before the film cuts to a different era, jumping between her childhood, adolescence and the time she is the prime suspect in a murder investigation.

The unengaging first half of the film now transitions into a drawn-out second part, in which the characters finally have time to digest the emotional storm that has brought them here. You’re a little worn out at this point; you do want to know where the film is going, but everything takes a lot longer as the picture it transitions from Bildungsroman into courtroom drama.

Once you’ve figured out exactly what Where the Crawdads Sing is all about (namely, damaged pretty girl caught between good guy and bad boy with a healthy sprinkle of nature and self-sufficiency), it’s all over. 

It’s a shame that the film chose those themes over what could also have been a convincing love letter to North Carolina and nature in general.

During its best moments, the film does capture that fantasy of living in a cabin in the wilderness with nothing to do but pursue your passions. It’s just a shame that the birds Kya observes when she ventures out are so badly animated that the elaborate film set and imperfectly-lit greenscreens shine right through.

Underneath the film, the quality of the novel shines through. Where the Crawdads Sing isn’t going to break any records like the novel that is its source, and might best serve as something to watch when you feel like seeing an extra cheesy romantic thriller that isn’t The Notebook

Better yet, you could just read the book (again).


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