‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ Strips Away the Books Edge

If the crawdads sang, would they reveal who the murderer is in Delia Owen’s best selling novel, now newly adapted film “Where the Crawdads Sing?” 

“Where the Crawdads Sing” follows Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) throughout her youth in the 1950’s into young adulthood as she navigates living, loving and surviving alone in the North Carolina marsh land. Kya faces heartbreak after heartbreak as her family and those she loves begin to abandon her, the townspeople treat her as an outsider, and she struggles to survive in the harsh climate. When Chase Andrews (Harris Dickson), a boy rumored to have had a relationship with Kya, is found dead in the marsh, the townspeople set out on a witch hunt for Kya — the prime suspect.  

Directed by Olivia Newman with Reese Witherspoon as Executive Producer, as a stand alone work this adaptation does an effective job at doing what it sets out to do. It’s an emotional story about overcoming adversity, a tale of (wo)man versus nature, and a story about love and loss. The casting is pretty spot on. The performances from the leading actors are strong and help drive the story and keep it interesting, especially from Jones, who rose to fame with her exceptional portrayal of Marianne in another book to screen adaptation for Sally Rooney’s “Normal People”. Overall, it is a solid, average film. 

Courtesy of Hello Sunshine and 3000 Pictures.

However, when examining the film side by side with the source material, it seems to fall behind the original text. Albeit, the eloquent imagery used throughout the book to describe the marsh and its critters is beautifully showcased within the film from Polly Morgan’s cinematography. While audiences may be impressed by this imagery coming to life on the big screen, fans of the book will find issues in the structure and pacing of the cinematic story. The book goes back and forth from the discovery of Chase’s body, to Kya’s early life and forward, until about three fourths of the way into the book when the trial begins and timelines converge, occasionally going back in time to slowly reveal more of the story. While the film attempts to keep this nonlinear timeline in place, Kya’s trial begins very quickly, along with the establishing and building of her relationship with attorney Tom Milton (David Strathairn), who never seems like a very important character in the novel.

For the film, they also take their time to introduce Chase while he is alive. The book does a good job at placing him in several scenarios that Kya comes in contact with, years before their relationship. Since you get to see Chase as the golden boy he seemed to be throughout his life, it makes his actions later on, and especially his death, that much more impactful. What the book does well is blend the character’s stories together, taking its time to reveal who they are, what they do, how their relationships mesh or fall apart, but the movie does not allot that luxury.  

Prior to the release of “When the Crawdads Sing,” the initial trailers and overall marketing for the film did a good job at capturing the book’s essence, getting readers excited for the movie while also catching the eye of people completely new to the material. The movie seems to hone more into a courtroom drama aspect of the narrative, having the trial hanging over the viewers head for the duration of the plot. But, even after the time spent in the courtroom, it does not give as powerful explanations as the novel, and it definitely does not build up tension and the stakes in the same way. Of course this makes sense, one is an almost 400 page book, the other is a 120 page screenplay. Given the length and depth of this book, a person could wonder if this story would have served the text more meaningfully as a limited series or some longer form than a two hour movie. This way they could have stayed more true to the jumping back and forth between times and relationships, and built the tension of the trial to its full extent. 

Courtesy of Hello Sunshine and 3000 Pictures.

From the book’s release, to the conception of the film, Reese Witherspoon has led the charge in support for this story beginning in 2018 when she raved about the book to her millions of followers in her book club up until currently where she serves as the films executive producer. Following her on Instagram means you have been regularly updated with the film’s announcements and production process, as Witherspoon made sure to publicize and advertise as early and as much as she possibly could. It feels as if Reese being the spearheader for this story is very emblematic of its deeper effects and implications.

‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ seems to be made by White women, for White women. The book and its author, who is currently awaiting questioning for a murder investigation, have been criticized for White savior activism. This story, based on prejudices and injustices, resembling something like “To Kill A Mockingbird” takes that story’s bones, and gives it to a young White woman and embedding it with teenage romance. In our current social and political landscape, when marginalized voices are finally getting the chance to shine, this story feels somewhat unnecessary and superfluous. 

*Content Warning: viewers may want to be advised about a sexual assult scene in the film.

“Where the Crawdads Sing” is currently playing in theaters.  

By Brooke Stevenson

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