Where the Crawdads Sing movie review: The Crawdads Sleep

Based on the book of the same name by Dalia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing follows the story of Catherine (or Kya) Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones), whose reputation as “the Marsh girl” makes her the prime suspect for the murder of Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson).

The movie focuses on the murder trial, as Kya is defended by retired attorney Tom Milton (David Strathairn), who only knows part of her story. But the audience understands the complete picture of Kya’s past with Andrews, and Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith), her first crush, arrives back at the marsh when Chase falls in love with Kya.

Spoiler alert! Mild spoilers are ahead for Where the Crawdads Sing.

Where the Crawdads Sing should be titled Where the Crawdads Sleep

Let’s get it out of the way, the movie doesn’t work. There are many reasons why that’s the case, but part of it is due to Lucy Alibar’s unfocused script, which swerves from one time period to another, flashing forward and time, and back, and forward again, without any sense of focus, or direction.

Plenty of flashbacks do not serve the story or give us more insight into the main character, especially the film’s beginning, which chronicles Kya’s tumultuous childhood in the hands of an abusive father (Garret Dillahunt) who constantly berates, humiliates, and beats Kya without shame. None of these scenes add any drama or emotional pull to the film or make the audience understand why Kya decided to stay in the marsh while her family was moving away from her dad. They’re just shamelessly exploitative and left a bad taste in my mouth.

Daisy Edgar-Jones is a scene-stealer in Where the Crawdads Sing

I was today years old when I learned that Daisy Edgar-Jones was initially cast as Jenny in S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR  before she was replaced by Olivia Morris. Her career would’ve likely gone in a completely different direction had she done the role, but there’s no denying how incredible she is in Where the Crawdads Sing.

Without her, the movie would’ve had no emotional impact because none of the other actors are as good as Edgar-Jones. Even Harris Dickinson, who is usually highly charismatic in films like The Souvenir Part II and The King’s Man, can’t reach the same emotional level as Edgar-Jones. They have little chemistry together since Dickinson plays Chase like a caricature. Scenes that require massive amounts of emotional pull and dramatic impact are tarnished by how Chase erratically reacts to Kya once she distances herself from him.

Kya’s relationship with Tate is more palpable than Chase’s, and both actors have better chemistry on-screen. Though it’s a shame how much Taylor John Smith is underused, as he leaves the movie midway through and is never seen again until the end, to which he has barely anything to do.

On the other hand, Edgar-Jones magnifies the screen from the moment she appears until the end. At every turn, you root for her. You want the always excellent David Strathairn as Tom Milton to prove her innocence in front of a jury because Edgar-Jones brings so much emotional power to her performance that we ultimately want good to triumph over bad and have a well-earned happy ending in the process.

Where the Crawdads Sing is a riveting courtroom drama

The courtroom scenes are the only parts of the film that sustained my attention throughout. Whenever it would cut back to the courtroom, I would awaken from my slumber and be riveted by how Strathairn delivered the most scene-chewing procedural dialogue I’ve seen from a major production in a long time. They’re the only moments where Alibar’s script flourishes because director Olivia Newman puts two great actors front and center and gives them the spotlight.

But the rest of the movie doesn’t work as well as those scenes–it’s all terribly maudlin (and dull), setting up a faux love triangle between Chase and Tate. But anyone who’s seen any romantic drama (or romcom) knows that the female protagonist always ends up with a childhood friend/crush when the movie ends. It’s no different here; even if the movie tries to establish a will they/won’t they relationship between Kya and Chase/Tate, you can’t fool anyone. She will end up with Tate, no matter the passionate love she feels for Chase (even if short-lived). There. I saved you two hours of your life you won’t get back.

Though part of the fun of seeing a romantic drama in cinemas isn’t necessarily knowing how it will end, but seeing a relationship blossom in front of our eyes with two impeccable leads at its core. In that regard, Where the Crawdads Sing succeeds through Daisy Edgar-Jones and Taylor John Smith’s excellent performances. But since John Smith’s Tate is highly underutilized and the film spends most of the time establishing an uninteresting relationship between Edgar-Jones and Dickinson, the movie falls flat on its face. It also doesn’t help that most of it is terribly unfocused—alternating from unnecessary (and mostly dull) filler flashbacks to riveting courtroom scenes, seemingly directed by another filmmaker.

Without such strong performances from Edgar-Jones, John Smith, and David Strathairn, Where the Crawdads Sing would’ve been one of the year’s biggest disasters, but they marginally saved the viewing experience for me. Still, it’s not something I’d recommend to anyone, as there are far better movies to see in cinemas right now.

Where the Crawdads Sing is now playing in theaters.