The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING | The Movie Waffler


In 1969 North Carolina, a reclusive young woman is charged with murder.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Olivia Newman

Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, Michael Hyatt, Sterling Macer, Jr., David Strathairn

where the crawdads sing poster

Director Olivia Newman's Where the Crawdads Sing is based on a hugely successful novel of the same name, penned by Delia Owens. I know Owens is a real person as she's currently embroiled in a controversy over a murder in Zambia in the 1990s, but if the book is anything like the movie I might have believed it was co-authored by Nicholas Sparks and John Grisham. Where the Crawdads Sing borrows Sparks' sun-dappled North Carolina setting and contains the sort of romantic subplot that author is known for. Its other plotline is a very Grisham-esque Southern courtroom drama, where kindly lawyers in white linen suits try to save wrongly accused patsies from mob justice. These two elements are so jarring that if Sparks and Grisham had indeed co-authored the story, they certainly didn't get a look at each other's chapters.

where the crawdads sing review

Daisy Edgar Jones, a rising English star with the look of a young Charlotte Gainsbourg, is Kya, who is left to fend for herself as a child when her entire family deserts their home in the marshes. Kya manages to adapt to a life of self-sustenance quite well, though it's mostly kept off screen so we don’t ask too many questions regarding the practical aspects of an eight-year-old living alone in the woods. In 1969, a twentysomething Kya finds herself charged with the murder of local football star Chase Anderson (Harris Dickinson), whose body is found at the foot of a fire tower in the marsh. The case against Kya is as flimsy as the movie's narrative – she's arrested because a red hat is found in her home and the deceased had red fibres found on his person. 17th century witch trials required more concrete evidence.

We spend little time in the courtroom and a whole lot of time watching Kya's dual romances with Chase, whose initial charm quickly gives way to violence, and nice guy Tate (Taylor John Smith), who teaches Kya reading, writing and rumpy pumpy. Tate disappears for a few years and comes back with no real reason for his absence. I mean, come on, the narrative gift of the Vietnam War was right there!!! His disappearance leads Kya into the abusive arms of Chase, while she becomes a published author of conservation books, despite having literally just learned to read and write a couple of months ago.

where the crawdads sing review

Where the Crawdads Sing is a big bucket of Southern fried clichés. The white folks are hanky waving, bigoted assholes, except for the book learnin' liberal lawyer (David Strathairn), while the black folks are benevolent, represented by a couple of Bible quoting store owners (Sterling Macer Jr, Michael Hyatt) who come to a business arrangement with Kya whereby they purchase her freshly dug clams, which apparently is enough to keep her in food and clothes. A subplot the movie seems to forget about sees Kya dodging social services, who are rightly concerned about an eight-year-old girl LIVING ALONE IN A FUCKING MARSH. We're supposed to view them as villains who want to take away her freedom. It's a lot like those stories American media loves to portray where six-year-old kids are forced to establish lemonade stall franchises to pay for their mother's cancer treatment. Hardship seems cute to those who have never experienced it.

It's difficult to figure out what audience Where the Crawdads Sing is aiming for. Its romantic subplots, complete with magic realist swirling leaves, feel designed to set the pulses of bookish pre-teen girls racing, but its grittier elements, including gendered violence and sexual assault, are unsuitable for such an audience. The result is a movie that's too silly for adults but too gruelling for kids.

where the crawdads sing review

Jones' doe-eyed performance goes some way to distracting us from how nonsensical the whole affair is, and she really is a star in the making. It's impossible to believe in the character of Kya as a young woman who has spent her formative years living like Tarzan of the marsh. But despite her implausibly fresh-faced features, Jones manages to sell us on her character's turmoil to the point that when things go well for her we're genuinely happy for her, and when things go bad, we're disappointed. The movie doesn't deserve such an empathetic performance, but Jones' talents only go so far. Ultimately Where the Crawdads Sing sinks in a marsh of preposterousness.

Where the Crawdads Sing is on Netflix UK/ROI now.