Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing ★½

Where the Crawdads Sing is one of the few small-scale dramas to be released during the 2022 summer season, the type of film that feels like a throwback to romantic drama films of the early 2000's, but has become self-aware enough to avoid the clichés and archetypes that came from that decade. It was exciting to see Daisy Edgar-Jones in a theatrical release after her performance in Fresh, while Lucy Alibar (co-writer of Beasts of the Southern Wild) worked on the screenplay with Delia Owens, the author of the novel.

The moment that I knew that this film was in trouble came after attempting to read the book, which felt like a Nicolas Sparks redux but with slightly better setting descriptions and character motivations. While the novel was mediocre with small bursts of creativity, the film adaptation is much more fascinating to talk about, an uninspired, painfully drawn-out film that makes no attempt to engage the audience with its story or characters.

The film's structure is one of the most baffling choices here, failing to combine the main mystery, character study, and romantic drama into a cohesive whole. Firstly, director Olivia Newman treats the murder mystery as an afterthought to the love triangle, which removes all intrigue and suspicion when the perspective completely locks itself to Kya. Scenes that directly deal with the mystery are so few and far between that the viewer is forced to stop caring about the resolution, because it becomes clear that the narrative doesn't care about it either.

Secondly, the romantic drama is rushed, with dull characterizations from both men in the triangle. In terms of melodrama, I believe Catherine Hardwicke executed it best with the first Twilight, which was so playful and silly that it invited the viewer to laugh with the film rather than at it. Where the Crawdads Sing takes a note from the Twilight sequels, seeping itself in self-seriousness rather than acknowledging the superficiality of the dialogue and relationships.

Thirdly, Kya is one of the weakest female protagonists I have seen in a film since Anastasia Steele (without hyperbole). Newman unfortunately relegates Daisy Edgar-Jones to three actions: hiding with a face of bewilderment, having a sudden outburst of anger, or looking into the distance without expression. She is an empty vessel that is controlled by other characters, and is only given one opportunity towards the end that displays a personal initiative. The lack of strong female protagonists has always been a problem when it comes to this genre, but it is disappointing when the marketing promises the opposite.

This film also seemed to be in a competition with Morbius to see which ending could end more abruptly and unsatisfyingly. However, presentation-wise, the film is stellar. The costume and production design is excellent, and cinematographer Polly Morgan does a great job capturing the essence and beauty of the marsh. It was a nice surprise to see David Strathairn, and Jones, despite the material, once again shows why she is one of the best growing talents. There's not much more that can be said. Where the Crawdads Sing is a intensely frustrating experience. D+

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