Cinematic Releases: Where the Crawdads Sing (2022) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Sony Pictures
Conservationist and zoologist Delia Owens’ 2018 debut novel Where the Crawdads Sing, a deeply Southern fried North Carolinian set cross between coming-of-age memoir and murder mystery, became a major best seller and captured the hearts and minds of readers globally.  With its tale of an abandoned young girl who survives living alone in the marshes before being accused and tried for a crime involving the death of a local golden boy, the novel’s dual narrative structure telling the girl’s story in flashback was plainly rife with cinematic possibilities.  Two years into the pandemic, now here is writer-director Olivia Newman’s big screen adaptation which provides moviegoers with one of the most refreshing female-led tales of life in the South since Fried Green Tomatoes.

Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is on trial for the murder of preppy local quarterback Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), with Tom Milton (David Straithairn) appointed as her defense attorney.  To help build her case, Kya tells Milton of her past, flashing back to her childhood in 1953 in a North Carolina marsh living with her parents and older siblings.  After the abusive alcoholic father gambles their life savings away, mother and siblings fly the coup leaving Kya with her father before he too leaves Kya to her own devices at the age of seven.  Fending for herself she sells mussels to a local grocery store and soon adopts the moniker of being the “Marsh Girl”, becoming a naturalist in the process.
Visually between the locations shot in New Orleans and Louisiana in widescreen by Polly Morgan, Where the Crawdads Sing is one of the prettiest looking pictures of 2022 easily.  More than anything, the cinematography and setting depict the marsh as a kind of undiscovered utopia you easily find yourself getting lost in.  Painterly and striking, some of the film's best passages consist purely of the camera gazing over the beautiful marshy swampy landscape, as though we the viewer with the film and its protagonist are becoming one with nature.

Then there’s the soundtrack which includes not only a compelling original score by Mychael Danna but also sports an original song by Taylor Swift inspired by her reading the book itself before seeing a frame of footage, creating an emotional soundscape that radiates from being nerve wracking to uplifting.  The ensemble cast is generally good with Straithairn being the film’s veteran cast member, though make no mistake this is largely Daisy Edgar-Jones’ one woman show of a fierce and intelligent survivor thriving in the most unlikely of places in the deep South. 
Quasi-murder mystery thriller, mostly a Southern Gothic romance ala Nick Cassavetes’ The Notebook with just a hint of Nell sprinkled in, Where the Crawdads Sing is again the modern post-pandemic answer to Fried Green Tomatoes, telling a distinctly regional story with a universally appealing love story at its epicenter.  Mostly aided by a strong central performance by Daisy Edgar-Jones who makes the film’s resourceful heroine and storyteller a compelling figure, the film is a refreshing return to down-to-Earth female driven dramas with a picturesque marshy backdrop for its setting.  

Though the courtroom scenery is old hat if not a narrative contrivance and though the Southern tropes and terrain trudged across are familiar, the look at a young woman’s life surviving alone in the marsh is a cinematic vision you rarely seen from Hollywood anymore.  Given the film’s surprising box office success, it’s fair to say audiences have been eager for this kind of romantic drama for awhile.

--Andrew Kotwicki