Where the Crawdads Sing (2022) Review
OF BEAUTIFUL CINEMATICS AND
In the age of cinematic storytelling, Hollywood has always turned to other source materials for inspiration. Some have been based on a “true story” or event, while others have taken “loosely” based on certain scenarios (i.e., alternative history). Naturally, the ideas of popular properties from the likes of video games, literary novels, and television have also taken center stage of filmmakers; ripping ideas and story narratives for a movie treatment. In amongst these categories, the idea of “page to screen” film adaptations are a dime a dozen, turning a gaze into popular and / or best-selling novels for lucrative treatment of moviemaking magic. These translations from “book to film” can be jarring at times, with some endeavors lacking the same type of storytelling finesse, character development, and omitting certain scenarios from the narrative due to the time constraints set within a motion picture. The flip side is that there has been many page to screen film adaptations that have worked and have reimagined into some memorable feature movies, with some being translated into big budget franchise tentpoles. Now, Sony Pictures and director Olivia Newman present the latest of the film adaptations with the release of Where the Crawdads Sing; based on the novel of the same name by Delia Owens. Does the movie find merit within its cinematic adaptation or does something get lost within its “page to screen” translation?
Growing up in the swamplands of North Carolina, Catherine “Kya” Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones) lives a life solitude and isolation. Due to the abusive nature of her father, Jackson (Garrett Dillahunt), Kya’s mother, Julienne (Ahna O’Reilly), abandoned her, with her paternal figure soon after along with her other older siblings, leaving the young girl to manage for herself in the family’s homestead deep within the marshlands, with many in the nearby town referring to Kya as the “Marsh Girl”. Even as an adult, she remains an outcast, selling mussels to scrape by a living, finding very few comforts in other people and only finding solace in her nature surroundings. When the dead body of local man turns up in the marshlands, Kya is the number one suspect, with young woman apprehended, arrested, and tried for the crime. With many in the town are passing judgement on the wayward woman, litigator attorney Tom Milton (David Strathairn) lends a friendly hand by offering to represent Kya during her trial. As the courtroom proceeds, Kya’s memories come to the surface, with her relationship with her first crush, Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) and her second fling, Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), the latter of who is the recently deceased. As situations come to light and the clues to Chase’s death are speculated, Kya’s past begins to resurface and ultimately brings up the fundamental question…. was she involved in Andrews’s murder.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Like many have said…. Hollywood has certainly run out of “fresh ideas”. The inspiration of coming up original and newly refreshing stories / concepts for motions pictures has become very stale (at least in my opinion) and the idea of “looking elsewhere” for proven narratives is becoming more commonplace. Popular properties and / or bestselling source material seems like a surefire “win” for a studio theatrical release and… giving the track record of most “based on” endeavors…it’s clear to see why. There is no doubt about it that film adaptation of literary works is still ever present in the cinematic mainstream world, delving into popular source material to further help expand upon a narrative with lucrative box office results. It’s kind of hard thing to say what actually is a great book-to-film adaptation as there has been many out there that have turned a profit and seeing great success, with several being long lasting franchises, including the Harry Potter series or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Even beyond those big tentpole studio endeavors, several “one and done” novels have also success and positive reviews from both critics and moviegoers alike, including The Shawshank Redemption, Persepolis, The Notebook, Gone Girl, Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain, and The Devil Wears Prada just to name a few. Of course, there are a plethora of failed film adaptation of popular bestselling novels, including The Golden Compass, Divergent Series: Allegiant, The Seekers: The Dark is Rising, The Host, The Dark Tower, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Girl on the Train amongst others out there. Suffice to say that are several others that fall somewhere in-between those points of success / failure, with those individuals project lingering with okay-ish, but failing to capture what made the popular in their literary forms. In the end, I feel that it’s sometimes a gamble for a movie studio to take a bestselling novel and turn it into feature film, with some being good others just flat out bad. It’s basically difficult to capture lightning in a bottle and translate that into a motion picture. You either have it…. or you don’t.
This, of course, brings me back to talking about Where the Crawdads Sing, a 2022 mystery thriller drama that is based on the title of the same name by author Delia Owens. I remember back when I use to work at a bookstore and recall seeing this particular book steadily flying off the shelves for months on end. Even today, I still see the book at retail stores and people are still buying it. I didn’t get the chance to read the book, but I know it had to be good…. which was probably used multiple times in book club novels and summer “beach read” …. if you know what I mean. Thus, given its popularity, it was almost a forgone conclusion that a film adaptation of Owen’s novel would eventually materialize on the horizon and was first announced back in early 2025. After that, I really didn’t hear much about the project until I first saw the films’ movie trailer started to appear both online and in the movie theaters (during the “coming attractions” preview segment). From the trailer alone, I was quite interested to see this movie as it showcased plenty of mystery and intrigue as I finally got an understand of Owen’s novel was about. It wasn’t something that I was immediately excited to see, but my curiosity grew as the theatrical release date from the movie (July 15th, 2022). So, the film was released on the date, but my schedule was still a little busy, so I didn’t get the chance to see Where the Crawdads Sing until about a month after its initial release. Even after that, I had to wait a little to get my review done for this movie as my work schedule (and a few outside sources) started to weigh heavily on me and had to push aside getting my film reviews completed. Now, I finally have some free time to write and share my personal thoughts on this movie. And what did I think of it? Well, it was kind of mixed bag. While beautifully shot and good intentions of trying to convey murder mystery-like thriller, Where the Crawdads Sing comes across as a fragmented and incoherent tale that lacks the cinematic finesse of storytelling and proper execution. It’s not terrible as some are making it out to be, but it’s clearly that this was missed opportunity for a popular “page to screen” film adaptation.
As a sidenote, my review for this movie is going to be simply on the film itself as I didn’t get the chance to read Owen’s book prior to seeing the film. I did a few research notes in comparison the two from others, but my review is going to be mainly on the feature itself and not what was added, changed, or omitted from “page to screen” translation process.
Where the Crawdads Sing is directed by Olivia Newman, whose previous directorial works include such projects like First Match and several episodes from TV series including Chicago P.D., FBI, and Chicago Fire. Thus, while her work is mostly in short films or episodic directing, Newman’s makes the most of her opportune chance in theatrical feature film endeavors, with Where the Crawdads Sing being her most ambitious project to date. To that end, I believe that Newman succeeds, but with some bumps along the way (more on that below). For the positive aspects, I think that Newman does a somewhat decent job in depicting Owen’s novel, with some good sympathetic casted upon the film’s main protagonist character…. Kya. It’s not the most original or riveting composition to create, but it is one that is proven, and Newman does an admirable job in showcasing the young girl’s life through a series of personal struggles and triumphs. There is emotion to be had in many scenes in the movie and, while not exactly the most fully developed, still delivers on some palpable moments here and there. The final twist is something that I liked. It could’ve been better shown with a few additional sequences, but I found it to be interesting…to say the least. Additionally, I do have to praise the usage of the various artwork and drawings that Kya creates in the story to be of poignant meaning in both her life and in the imagery of the setting. The drawings and doodles that is depicted in the film is terrific and definitely is a character unto itself, with Newman focusing in on those moments with sincere. I know it’s a minor positive for some, but it was a nice attention to detail. Good job!
For the film’s presentation, Where the Crawdads Sing is absolute gorgeous to behold and perhaps one of the best things that the movie has to offer. With a production budget of $24 million, Newman and her filmmaking team smartly utilizes what they have to make the film’s background visual setting. The result is something definitely makes the film’s backdrop feel appropriate and realistic in the timeline of the 1960s era in North Carolina. From the quaint shots of the nearby town to the lush and almost untouched presentation of the swamplands, the setting in the movie is top notch and almost forgives some of the missteps that Newman makes (more on that below). Thus, the various “behind the scenes” team, including Kirby Feagan (art direction), Sue Chan (production design), Alice Baker (set decorations), Mirren Gordon-Crozier (costume design) for their efforts in making the film’s setting come alive on-screen. In addition to this, the film’s cinematography by Polly Morgan is fantastic and helps create some truly dynamic and cinematic moments throughout the movie, especially the ones that depict the untamed beauty of the swamplands.
Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Mychael Danna, is actually a great music composition for the movie. There’s definitely quality feeling for many of the scenes featured in the film, with Danna’s work feeling genuine and heightening the drama / cinematic moments throughout. Great job! Additionally, the movie does feature a new song from popstar musician Taylor Swift titled “Carolina”. I know that there is a sort of a “love / hate” type of feeling towards Swift music amongst the masses, but I actually like her songs. So, I had no problem with “Carolina” in the film as it was pretty good to me. Not going to run out and buy the song on iTunes or anything like that, but it was still a good song to listen to.
Unfortunately, Where the Crawdads Sing stumbles more often that it takes its own strides, with several key points of criticism weighing the feature down. Perhaps the most prevalent one that comes immediately across is in the feature’s script, which was penned by Lucy Alibar, sort of comes off as a bit fragmented in what it wants to tell in the movie’s narrative path. How so? Well, there is no doubt about it that the story of Where the Crawdads Sing has a lot to unpack, especially with so many different character and timeframes within Kya’s life. So, one can easily tell that the movie is struggling to find a proper medium to balance and juggle all these particular points, including two different two periods of which the feature covers. However, Alibar’s screenplay of translating Owen’s novel suffers from just feeling mundane and not as much engaging as was promised. Yes, there are some moments that truly do work (and work great) in the movie, but there a sense of blandness from start to finish, with the screenplay being almost a gloss surface level in a few key areas. There is also a lacking a particular edge to the feature. Again, I haven’t read Owen’s book, but I even could tell that there were a few moments where the narrative being told has some “edgy” scene, but never fully explored, which is quite disappointing.
This also makes the film quite boring throughout large sequences, with a sluggish pacing throughout. Furthermore, Newman’s direction for the feature weighs in on that notion, with the director’s ambitious vision for Owen’s novel feeling the pressure in various scenes and it’s quite clear that there’s some more of the classic “bites off more than she can chew” in the movie. Newman embraces a lot of the film’s scenery scene, which (again) are terrific, as they really swell up the feeling of the North Carolina swamp, but (at the same time) lingers too much on those scenes, especially when more time should be spent on certain character development sequences or story plot point ones. It’s clear that it’s a “labor of love” for Newman to undertake, but there’s a sense of fragmentation as both the screenplay script and direction that lacks a sense of focus throughout. This makes Where the Crawdads Sing seem choppy and a bit incoherent in what it wants to be. Is it a romance story? Is it thriller? Is it a courtroom drama? Well, it’s a combination of all three, but the three aspects have difficulty in harmonizing with each other; making the film feel uneven at times.
This also leads into the duality of the narrative that’s being told, with one being set in the past as Kya reflects on her life, while the other is set during the present during her trial. What perhaps works the better of the two is the ones that are presented in Kya’s past, which offer up more of the narrative substance bulk of the feature. Thus, the scenes in the present day suffer because they don’t have enough cinematic or dramatic effect in comparison to the other half of the plot. This makes all the courtroom drama and crime elements rather disappointing. Such duality of narrative tracing between past and present can work in film’s favor, but only if it’s done right. That being said, Newman’s direction for the movie doesn’t exactly payoff the correct way, with many of the courtroom trial scenes comes off as timid, mundane, and just lackadaisical, with no cinematic punch or that much emotional grit behind it.
In addition, I felt that the film’s ending could’ve benefited with one particular scene that wasn’t shown. I don’t know if the scene I’m talking about was in the novel or not, but this pivotal scene was something I was expecting to see…. yet it was never shown. I guess it would be left up to the viewer’s imagination as to what the scene entailed, but, given the amount of importance that this scene holds on the entire narrative, it was something that I was expecting to see. Alas, it’s not shown in the film and kind of disappointed that it was shown.
The cast in Where the Crawdads Sing is pretty good, with most (if not all) the cast delivering some quality acting in their respective roles. That being said, what actually falters is that there are a few of them that lack the necessary finesse and development from a writer’s standpoint, which renders several of these particular characters to be underwhelming and / or surface level. Who actually fares the best in the movie is actress Daisy Edgar Jones, who plays the central protagonist character of Kya Clark (aka “The Marsh Girl). Known for her roles in Cold Feet, Normal People, and War of the Worlds, Jones isn’t a recognizable household name of the actresses, but here performance in this particular movie is something that should highly note. Whatever problems that there are with the feature’s execution, the one thing that many agree on is how much Jones delivers a palpable performance in the role of Kya. She emotes quite well and gracefully conveys a wide range of emotions; showcasing the fragile state that Kya faces throughout her life. It’s a testament to Jones’s acting to make such a character easily to sympathize with from the moment she appears on-screen and all the way through to the end credits. Plus, even she isn’t speaking any dialogue lines, Jones beautiful showcases her emotions through facial expression and body motions; something that projects wonderfully on-screen. It’s quite easy to find an immediate connection with her and Jones should deserve all the praise for such an impressionable and stirring performance in the movie. As a sidenote, I do have to mentioned young actress
While Jones excels in the movie, her two-love interest, however, comes across as a little bit too generic and formulaic as either one is completely fleshed out to their fullest extent, which was one of the main problems in the movie (as mentioned above). Of course, I’m talking about the characters of Tate Walker and Chase Andrews, who are played by actors Taylor John Smith (Hunter Killer and Sharp Objects) and Harris Dickinson (The King’s Man and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil). Both Smith and Dickinson are perfectly fine in the roles and their acting is okay in playing their respective parts, but it’s how the film’s script poorly handles these two love interest characters for the main lead to bare her soul to. Tate comes off as too much of the “first crush” and “love at first sight” mantra with a good-natured towards the young woman and doesn’t really go beyond with that, especially during some lazy writing in a few key areas of the narrative. The same can be said for Chase Andrews, who is clearly made to be a somewhat of an obstacle for Kya’s relationship with the young man as it’s quite obvious that he intentions aren’t the best. There’s just no character ambiguity to him, but it’s a bit on the nose as to what he means for Kya and for the movie’s plot. Thus, he (as well as Tate) comes off as only surface level character, glossing over their own personal development to only help serve Kya’s romantic relationship and / or plot point scenes.
Looking beyond those three main players in the narrative, the movie has several key players in the supporting category of characters that, while not fully developed as the principle leads, still manage to make a good impression do to the acting talent behind them. First, there is actor David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck and Lincoln) is solid in the role of Tom Milton, a fellow law attorney in town that decides to represent Kya during her trial. Strathairn acts as the “seasoned veteran” actor in the movie and clearly demonstrates that in every scene he is in by playing Tom with grace and ease. He’s more of a supporting character in the story, so he doesn’t have a whole lot of personal development in the movie, but I do like Strathairn as an actor, and he was perfectly fine in the role. Next, actor Sterling Macer Jr. (Lincoln Heights and Harts of the West) and actress Michael Hyatt (Nightcrawler and Fame) do a great job in playing the characters in playing the characters as James “Jumpin” Madison and his wife, Mabel Madison, two kind-hearted people who almost act like surrogate parents to young Kya throughout the movie’s story. Both Macer Jr. and Hyatt are good in their respective roles and do help sell the Madison’s plight of seeing Kya’s various struggles throughout her life.
The rest of the cast, including actress Ahna O’Reilly (The Help and Fruitvale Station) as Kya’s mother Julienne Clark, actor Garrett Dillahunt (Raising Hope and Deadwood) as Kya’s father Jackson Clark, actor Will Bundon (Heir of the Witch and Thomas) as the younger version of Jodie Clark, actor Logan Macrae (Devotion and A Mouthful of Air) as the older version of Jodie, actor Bill Kelly (Bloodline and The Banker) as Sheriff Jackson, actor Jayson Warner Smith (The Walking Dead and The Birth of a Nation) as Deputy Joe Perdue, actor Dane Rhodes (The Magnificent Seven and The Walk) as Judge Sims, and actor Eric Ladin (Generation Kill and Boardwalk Empire) as prosecutor Eric Chastain, make up the smaller / minor characters in the film. As mentioned, these particular characters are limited by the design, so most only have a handful scenes on this project. That being said, most of these individuals are perfectly fine in their respected parts and have no problem with them.
Faced with the death of young man, Kya Clark stands on trial and bares her soul to the world as memories of her past flood her mind and recount both happy and unsettling events of her life in the movie Where the Crawdads Sing. Director Olivia Newman latest film takes cinematic look into Delia Owen’s bestselling novel for tale of struggles, finding happiness, and looking at things in a different light (with some classic thematic message in that notion). Unfortunately, while the movie captures a very vibrant and fully realized background setting through its presentation as well as some great acting from the feature’s main lead, the film itself struggles to find a proper balance between story and tone, especially in several noticeable areas like choppy editing, incoherent tones, slightly boring at times, lacking substance in a few narrative areas, some obvious moments in characters, and the crime courtroom element severely unappealing. Personally, I would call this movie a “beautiful mess”, for the film itself was wonderfully shot, with some great visuals, yet that same cinematics can’t help save messy tones and fragmented narrative bits that the feature’s story undergoes. As I mentioned above, I would probably say that the movie is something that of similar to 2016’s The Girl on the Train; a film adaptation that was marred by its own execution and disappointment to a best-selling novel. It’s not as terrible or deplorable as some critics and movie reviewers are making it out to be, but it’s definitely not a great movie. Thus, my recommendation for the movie would be uneasy “iffy choice” for some viewers out there (maybe for those who have read the book) as well as maybe a “skip it” for everyone else as, for one, didn’t find the film to live up to the marketing hype. In the end, Where the Crawdads Sing is indeed a passion project, which tries to emulate the novel’s palpable spirt, yet ends up having difficult within its translation and ending up as a beautiful cinematic with incoherent storytelling.
3.1 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice / Skip It)
Released On: July 15th, 2022
Reviewed On: October 14th, 2022
Where the Crawdads Sing is 125 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sexual content and some violence including a sexual assault
Thanks for the review Jason. This one hasn’t interested me and after reading this I’m going to skip it. Doesn’t sound like it would be good enough to pass over others higher on my list.
Haha….you’ll do yourself a favor by not watching. Again, it has some good ideas, but the overall execution of the material seems to clunky and haphazard.