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)
Delia Owens had a massive bestseller released in 2018 with Where the Crawdads Sing and the North Carolina set mystery’s film adaptation is out on Friday. Directed by Olivia Newman, the cast of mostly relative unknowns includes Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, and Harris Dickinson.
The review embargo is lifted and critical reaction is mixed at best. With a 38% Rotten Tomatoes rating, it’s safe to assume awards voters will ignore it… with one possible exception.
A big fan of the source material, superstar Taylor Swift composed the track “Carolina” for the soundtrack. If the Academy nominates it in Best Original Song, that practically guarantees Oscar night performances from Swift and Lady Gaga (whose Top Gun: Maverick ballad “Hold My Hand” should be a no brainer for the final five). Gaga’s chances are considerably stronger, but it could be tempting to bring that double star power to the evening’s festivities. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
The actual actors in Where the Crawdads Sing are not the most recognizable individuals involved in the production. Opening July 15th, the mystery drama is produced by Reese Witherspoon. It features an original song titled “Carolina” by Taylor Swift. Perhaps most important to the box office viability, it’s based on a huge bestseller by Delia Owens.
Directed by Olivia Newman, the cast includes Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, and David Strathairn. With a budget of just over $40 million, Sony is banking on a sizable female audience that led the source material to eventually sell 12 million copies. In 2019, it sold more copies than any other adult novel.
I will cop to be unfamiliar with the book’s existence. However, I’m not the target demo. With those kind of sales, there should be a built-in crowd tailor-made for the adaptation. Estimates on other sites are as low as $10 million and as high as $25 million. This should at least place in the middle of that range.
Where the Crawdads Sing opening weekend prediction: $18.7 million
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Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank Box Office Prediction
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Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris Box Office Prediction
Some 13 years after Taken kicked off a whole new action phase for its star, Liam Neeson is back in revenge mode with Blacklight (out February 11th). And this time… wait for it!… it’s his granddaughter who’s been snatched by nefarious criminals. Mark Williams, who worked with Neeson in Honest Thief, directs and the supporting cast includes Emmy Raver-Lampman, Taylor John Smith, and Aidan Quinn.
One look at the Blacklight trailer illuminates Neeson in his late career comfort zone. Post Taken, that’s resulted in moneymakers like Unknown, Non-Stop and, of course, the Taken sequels.
Lately, however, the grosses have slowed. Some of that might have been a result of releases that occurred in this COVID era. The aforementioned Thief in fall 2020 premiered to only $3.6 million. Last year, The Marksman took in $3.7 million over the four-day MLK frame. Pre pandemic, in 2019, Cold Pursuit started with $11 million (still far off from earlier efforts).
I don’t see a compelling why Blacklight would approach double digits (or even high single ones) and it won’t help that male viewers will be distracted by the Bengals vs. Rams on Sunday of its debut weekend. It might outdo Thief and The Marksman, but maybe not.
Blacklight opening weekend: $3.8 million
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Death on the Nile Box Office Prediction
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Marry Me Box Office Prediction
During the skyward journey of the World War II bomber plane Fool’s Errand, the fact that it’s under constant fire by Japanese fighters is about the third biggest emergency facing it. That tells you something about Roseanne Liang’s Shadow in the Cloud, a brief and batty bit of pulp science fiction. This is a movie where it’s easier to admire its sheer brazenness as opposed to ultimately enjoying it.
Taking place in 1943, Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a flight officer who turns up on the Fool’s Errand with a bag not to be opened under any circumstances. She tells the crew it is Top Secret material. In this era, females weren’t the top of their professions at really anything and she is greeted derisively by nearly all of the all-male soldiers. The sympathetic Staff Sgt. Quaid (John Taylor Smith) is the primary exception.
Confined to the aircraft’s Sperry, the ride gets bumpier for Maude. And how. In addition to the aforementioned enemy attacks, there’s a gremlin terrorizing the crew as well. However, the biggest complication arrives midway through the 83 minutes runtime when the contents of Maude’s baggage is revealed. Whether you go along with it might determine your eventual verdict. I would just say that a kitschy 1940s paperback telling the same tale would probably insert the same twist.
Saying more would enter spoiler territory. Cloud‘s screenplay was originally penned by Max Landis and he still shares writing credit with the director. The script was reworked after Landis got into serious hot water with accusations of sexual misconduct. Not knowing how draft one read, Liang has fashioned Maude into a feminist badass who’s usually a step ahead of the grunts onboard. There’s shades of Ripley from the Alien series given the genre and other plot points I won’t speak of. Believe it or not, the comparisons in terms of quality are rather far apart.
Moretz receives plenty of camera attention alone in the Sperry as chaos erupts around her. The budget prevents a full viewing of the action and the actress’s facial expressions do a commendable job of conveying the litany of emotions she must go through. Cloud delivers limited thrills in terms of actual screen time and moments that stick. It’s as if there’s not enough minutes to truly embrace its sheer B movie absurdity.
**1/2 (out of four)