Crossing a John Grisham style potboiler with the 1994 Jodie Foster woman in the wild pic Nell begets Where the Crawdads Sing. This is the adaptation of the hugely popular 2018 bestseller from Delia Owens (so well known that Taylor Swift offered to contribute an end credits tune called “Carolina”).
That’s North Carolina beginning in 1953 where Kya lives in the marshland with her alcoholic father, abused mother, and siblings. One by one they all flee until the seven-year-old is all by her lonesome. She sells mussels to the married local store purveyors (Michael Hyatt and Sterling Macer Jr.) to make ends meet. Kya attempts an education, but the harassment of schoolmates makes that a one-day excursion.
As she grows into a young woman (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones), her interest in arts and nature hints at a promising career. The screenplay concentrates on Kya’s two romances. The first is with Tate (Taylor John Smith), who helps her learn to read and write before he’s slated to go away to college. The second is with star quarterback Chase (Harris Dickinson) whose union with The Marsh Girl (as the townsfolk call her) is his little secret.
For those uninitiated with the source material (this includes me), I’ll be careful not to wade into heavy spoiler territory. It’s not revealing too much to say that Kya’s publishing future is interrupted by a murder trial where she’s defended by David Strathairn’s dignified counselor.
Crawdads is all about Kya’s many experiences with abandonment. Part of the problem is that both of her beaus are blank slates. I never felt the chemistry between the Kya/Tate or Kya/Chase connections as much as they’re just presented to the audience. And that assisted in abandoning my own investment in the proceedings… both romantically and legally.
The screenplay never finds the right balance between the trial and the trials of our heroine away from the courtroom. From Edgar-Jones on down, the performances are serviceable but nothing beyond that. Crawdads has beautiful scenery to be sure. I wanted a more compelling story to occur there.
** (out of four)