Where the Crawdads Sing

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Where the Crawdads Sing
dir Olivia Newman
scr Lucy Alibar
prd Reese Witherspoon, Lauren Neustadter
with Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, David Strathairn, Michael Hyatt, Sterling Macer Jr, Logan Macrae, Bill Kelly, Ahna O'Reilly, Garret Dillahunt, Jojo Regina, Luke David Blumm
release US 15.Jul.22,
UK 22.Jul.22
22/US Sony 2h05

dickinson strathairn oreilly

Is it streaming?

smith and edgar-jones
Sumptuously produced, this mystery romance is a glossed-up version of the rural South, like The Notebook meets Twilight. And while the writing and direction are too controlled to allow for any realism, the actors find gorgeous textures in their characters, stirring in complexity that brings out the story's deeper themes about predators and inner strength. But just a hint of earthy grit would have made it more compelling.
In the North Carolina wetlands, Kya (Regina then Edgar-Jones) has essentially raised herself after her abused mother (O'Reilly) and violent father (Dillahunt) abandon her. Locals call her "Marsh Girl", and she's so badly bullied that she's gives up on school. But neighbour boy Tate (Blumm then Smith) teaches her to read, encouraging her to develop her artistic skills. When he goes off to college, it's privileged boy Chase (Dickinson) who pays her attention. A few years later, a body is found in the marshland, and Kya becomes the prime suspect, simply because she's an outsider.
Framing the story with the police investigation and courtroom drama forces the screenwriter to juggle plot spoilers, slowly allowing details to fill in the narrative until the final shoe drops in an extended coda. Strong side characters emerge along the way, but only a few are kind to Kya: her warmly astute lawyer Tom (Strathairn) and the observant shop owners (Hyatt and Macer) who helped her survive, perhaps because as a Black couple they understand the pain of bigotry. But that's left in the subtext.

The flashback structure covers some six decades, which gives actors a lot to chew on. Edgar-Jones has terrific presence as the intelligent, fiercely independent Kya, who never lets others define her or prevent her from being herself. Her quick willingness to call out injustice is powerfully felt, and she has distinct chemistry with both Smith's relentlessly nice Tate and Dickinson's more intriguingly shaded Chase. So watching each relationship develop is fascinating, complete with both swoony smooching and heartbreak.

All of this seems carefully designed for a young female teen audience, even with the strongish violence and sexuality. Director Newman has designed this film to within an inch of its life, making even the grubbiest settings drop-dead gorgeous. This slick approach continually undermines the story's darker undercurrents, even as scenes are skilfully played to offer insight into how people interact on a variety of levels while trying to protect themselves. And as a story about resilience, it carries a surprising kick.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 12.Jul.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall