“Where the Crawdads Sing” lacks courage

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Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) in Columbia Pictures’ WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

The protagonist of “Where the Crawdads Sing” seems to have a superpower. No, it’s not his ability to soar in the North Carolina wilderness, nor his impressive talent for sketching the natural world. It’s the fact that despite living in a literal swamp, her hair never suffers from a modicum of frizz – never more than a few stray strands artfully tousled as if in a Garnier Fructis. commercial. It’s a scientific miracle that those with long hair in humid climates around the world would surely love to study. Alas, it’s also proof of all the texture and grit that this coming-of-age story lacks.

Based on Delia Owens’ wildly popular bestselling novel of the same name, “Where the Crawdads Sing” is seemingly a story of struggle, survival and tenacity – one where a young woman named Kya (‘Normal People’ star Daisy Edgar – Jones) grows like a flower through concrete in a harsh world of the 1950s and 1960s, despite the best efforts of an uncaring and often cruel community. But it feels more like a brilliant Nicholas Sparks-flavored melodrama than a tale that actually has a meaningful connection to the messy real world – wetlands or otherwise.

About “Where the Crawdads Sing”: Part Courtroom Thriller, Part Romantic Melodrama

Opened in 1969, “Where the Crawdads Sing” is rooted in courtroom drama. When a local golden boy named Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) is found dead in the woods, Kya is put on trial for his murder, despite little evidence. (He may have just died in a coincidence accident.) When a sympathetic lawyer named Tom Milton (David Strathairn) agrees to represent her, Kya ends up sharing the unusual life story that turned her into a city outcast known as “Marsh Girl”. ”

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Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Tom (David Strathairn) at Columbia Pictures’ WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

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Her once happy childhood was marred by the abuse of her alcoholic father (Garret Dillahunt), who slowly chased away Kya’s mother and siblings before eventually disappearing himself. Scarred by abandonment but determined to survive on her own, young Kya (Jojo Regina) makes a living collecting mussels and selling them to a friendly local couple (Michael Hyatt and Sterling Macer Jr.) who run a wharf fuel and a bait store. When she was laughed at at school for her bare feet and inability to read, she decides to embrace the natural world as her teacher instead, thus sealing her fate as an outcast in the city.

Yet a story that seems set to come to life with the R-rated grit of something like Jennifer Lawrence’s “Winter’s Bone” instead reverts to a more stripped-back mode of storytelling, even with a potential murder in the picture. As Kya becomes a young adult, her isolated life is defined by romantic relationships with two men: the shy and kind Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) who teaches her to read and with whom she shares the joys of first love. , and the confident and charming Chase. — the man who will end up dead in the swamp. But did Kya really kill him? If yes, why? And if not, who else, if anyone, could be the culprit?

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Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) in Columbia Pictures’ WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

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It’s a much-needed driver to juice up this story, because otherwise there just isn’t a whole lot of the the. Like its brilliantly styled lead, “Crawdads” lacks a sense of texture in its characterizations. Despite Kya’s unusual teenage years, Edgar-Jones plays her mostly as a shy, unassuming young woman – no more socially awkward than your average YA protagonist. Other than her penchant for hiding behind a tree when she hears someone coming, there’s little about her that feels wild or untamed or socially rude in a way that people would find off-putting. Of course, part of the film’s message is that people can be unnecessarily cruel, but at some point it becomes hard to believe that such a pretty and wise young white woman would have a hard time evoking sympathy from her neighbors.

This ill-fitting conventionality also carries over into Kya’s love life, who has no distinct sexuality or even sensuality to match her unorthodox upbringing; no feeling of tactile pleasure matches his love of the natural world. Although we’re told that Kya has a wild, free-spirited side, she only ever comes across as sweetly modest and fully conforming to 1960s social norms. In that case, why give her such a usual backstory? to start ?

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Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) and Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) at Columbia Pictures’ WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

The biggest problem, however, is the disastrous casting of Kya’s love interests, who are so easily interchangeable you might forget their faces even if you look at them directly. It doesn’t help that both actors look way too old for the high school and college characters they’re supposed to play. That means what should be a passionate, tumultuous tale of a secret young love has all the plasticity of Barbie dolls dressed in 1960s button-down shirts. that standard bog melodrama with some authentic warmth.

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See “Where the Crawdads Sing” for: An Unexpected Love of Science

The only place the film feels truly original is how Kya ends up channeling her passion for nature through the prism of science. Owens was a zoologist and nonfiction writer before switching gears with “Crawdads,” and she imparts a similar passion to her protagonist. As soon as Kya learns to read, she dives right into the canon of scientific literature that helps her contextualize the natural world she loves so much. And the juxtaposition of her humble, practical personality and her ability to spout complicated scientific jargon is the one thing that makes her truly unique.

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Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) in Columbia Pictures’ WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

Fueled by Kya’s love for nature, “Crawdads” works best as a sort of travelogue in which director Olivia Newman showcases the misty waterways, sunny forests and vast shores of North Carolina (though filmed in Louisiana). And Edgar-Jones is at her strongest when she simply observes the natural world around her – marveling at the colors of a feather or the detail of a seashell. The problem comes when the movie has to go back to those pesky one-dimensional human characters that fuel its story.

With its lovely period setting and relatively compelling central mystery, “Where the Crawdads Sing” is quite watchable as some sort of glossy Southern fairy tale. As a celebration of an unusual life uniquely lived, however, it sinks more than it swims.

Rating: C

“Where the Crawdads Sing” is in theaters everywhere on July 15. Rated PG-13. 125 minutes. Dir: Olivia Newman. With: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, Jojo Regina, David Strathairn, Michael Hyatt, Sterling Macer Jr., Garret Dillahunt, Ahna O’Reilly, Jayson Warner Smith.

Make it a double feature with “Coyote Lake,” free streaming on Tubi

Coyote Lake (2019): “Riverdale” star Camila Mendes and Oscar-nominated Adriana Barraza direct this psychological thriller about a mother/daughter duo who run a bed and breakfast near the US-Mexico border. When two unwanted guests arrive, all hell breaks loose – and not just because of the newcomers. It turns out that mother and daughter have a big secret of their own, and it threatens to turn everything upside down. Rated TV-MA. 93 mins. Real: Sara Seligman. Also presenting Charlie Weber, Neil Sandilands, Manny Perez.

“Coyote Lake” is streaming for free on Tubiget the app

How to watch “Where the Crawdads Sing”

“Where the Crawdads Sing” hits theaters nationwide on July 15. It is currently not available for streaming.

About the writer: Caroline Siede is a film and television critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she spent four years lovingly analyzing the romantic comedy genre, one film at a time, in her When Romance Met Comedy column for The AV Club. She also co-hosts the film’s podcast, role calland shares his views on pop culture on Twitter (@carolinesiede).

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