Director: Olivia Newman
Writer: Lucy Alibar
Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, Michael Hyatt, Sterling Macer Jr., David Strathairn
Where the Crawdads Sing is written by Lucy Alibar and directed by Olivia Newman, and is based on the bestselling 2018 novel of the same name by Delia Owens. The film was also produced by Reese Witherspoon with her production company Hello Sunshine, after previously being selected for Witherspoon’s book club in September 2018. It’s one of the best selling books of recent years and the film adaptation does a good job at bringing the story to the big screen.
The story is part murder mystery and part slice-of-life drama. It jumps between 1969 where Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) is found dead in the marshes of North Carolina and the past, showing the main suspect Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones) growing up isolated from society and becoming known as the ‘Marsh Girl’. The 1969 sections mostly focus on Kya in court with the charge of murdering Chase, in tense short scenes that show witnesses being questioned and accusations being thrown around. The larger part of the film is the past, which starts in 1953 with Kya as a child subject to the physical abuse of her father, and slowly meets up with the present day and the ongoing trial. One day her mother leaves home, and quickly her siblings start to follow leaving her alone with their father until he leaves as well, and Kya is forced to learn to survive and grow up by herself.
It feels almost like two different films, with the flashbacks showing Kya’s day to day struggles, making money, not being able to go to school due to instant bully from her peers, and as she grows up it becomes a love story. At first, she falls in love with Tate (Taylor John Smith), who teaches her to read and write, before leaving to go to college. Later, Kya meets Chase and enters a relationship with him, where there’s always an undercurrent of sinister coming from Chase. He puts on a nice face, but you know he’s hiding something. There’s not the same love and affection with Chase as there is with Tate. All the way through there are small snippets of violence, specifically domestic abuse. It’s not overly graphic, but still hard hitting. It’s a little upsetting to watch at points.
The film runs at around two hours, and in places it does feel longer. Despite that, it does feel like some plot points are skimmed over, and probably get a lot more attention in the book (which I confess I haven’t read although I did buy a copy recently and will read soon). It does feel like the story would be better suited for a mini-series like Big Little Lies, another adaptation from Witherspoon’s company, especially since the tone varies quite a bit throughout the story. The characters are so well created and acted that you do genuinely want to see more of them, learn more of their history and see more of Kya and Tate’s relationship.
Overall, the film is very strong. It may feel long, but it does take you away to a different world and completely absorbs you into its story with its fantastic setting, cast, and the central mystery of who actually killed Chase Andrews.
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