Written By Darren
Rating 4 out of 5
Where the Crawdads Sing brings the best selling novel to life on the big screen, that is the rare example of a film adaptation improving on its source material, even if the film cannot capture the beauty of Delia Owens’s prose describing the mysterious and magical marshes of North Carolina.
I had heard tons of praise for Delia Owens’s best selling novel, so with the film coming out I sat down to read the novel as I am that viewer who needs to read the novel before seeing the film. While I felt the story to the novel was fine yet nothing special, I was completely entranced by Owens’s description of the marsh that Kya lived on. It was so magical and mesmerising that I was more intrigued by the setting of the novel than the actual story. Knowing this, walking into the film I knew that the adaptation could improve on the novel’s narrative structure, while being hesitant if the director and cinematographer would be able to capture the wondrous prose that made Owens’s novel a page turner.
In terms of the story, while being a faithful adaptation of the story without having to cut much to keep the film to a run time of approximately two hours, the film improves the narrative structure to create a more engaging film for the audience. The film follows Kya Clark, a young woman abandoned by her family who must raise herself in the marshes of North Carolina, outcast from her local town. However years later, Kya is arrested for the murder of one of the town’s young men after rumours of a romantic relationship between the two of them begin circuliating through town gossip, after the young man’s body is discovered and foul play is suspected. The novel tells the story in chronological order, jumping between Kya’s upbringing, and the discovery of the body. The two parallel story structure is maintained in the film, but the plot line following the murder investigation and trial is greatly accelerated. By doing so, the trial becomes the narrative structure for the film to visit Kya’s past as she recounts her upbringing to her lawyer and key events involved in the murder are shown alongside witness testimony. This structure allows for Kya’s narration to guide her upbringing, allowing her inner thoughts to play out naturally on screen as the novel is largely her internal dialogue. At the same time, the screenwriters bury key facts that are known early on in the novel to create more dramatic reveals in the murder trial and Kya’s past, helping to build the intensity of Kya’s trail as her life hangs in the balance. I may be biassed, because while reading the novel this was the narrative structure I saw working best to bring the novel to life on screen, but it helps focus the story that if not changed would have been tough to sit through.
While the film improves on the narrative structure of the novel, the beauty of the marsh is lost as the film focuses on the story. There are some stunning shots of the marsh throughout the film, but the film needed a stronger cinematographer and director able to capture both the story and the beauty of the marsh in a single shot to capture the true beauty of Owens’s novel. The natural beauty of the landscapes of Louisiana helps creates these wonderful shots, such as the shot of a young Kya digging up mussels in the marsh as the sun rises or of Kya and Tate’s magical first kiss, but there are moments where obvious CGI used to recreate the horizon on the marsh distracts from what should have been a great shot.
Though, it is the performances that bring the film to life. Daisy Edgar-Jones stars as Kya, and she is magnificent in the role. The character of Kya is not your typical lead role as she is a shy and timid young woman, suspicious of the human world after the difficult hand life has dealt her, while also being fiercely independent and resilient. There are not a ton of grand monologues for Edgar-Jones to deliver, but when she does deliver those few key monologues, she excels. It is in her physical performance where she opens Kya’s heart up to the audience, bonding them with her so they can experience her struggle over the course of the film. The emotion on her face in every scene is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, pulling the audience into the story as we watch Kya fight for her survival and love. There is a reason why Edgar-Jones is an actress you keep hearing about, because she is incredibly talented and has a presence that is absolutely entrancing, which carries the majority of the film.
Opposite her as Tate is Taylor John Smith, and he is outstanding as Edgar-Jones. Playing one of Kya’s love interests, Smith is warm and passionate throughout the film with a natural charisma that makes him a wonderful leading man. While there is an undeniable romantic bond between him and Edgar-Jones, it is one built on trust and self respect that creates an unique movie romance. Together, the two of them light up the screen and pull the audience into their characters’ beautiful relationship, which is the focal point of the film’s story.
Harris Dickinson co-stars as Kya’s other love interest and the man she is accused of murdering: Chase Andrews. Dickinson is good in the role, capturing this unlikable character with ease, though he is not nearly as strong as Edgar-Jones and Smith in his performance. The supporting cast is good, though most of them are not given much screen time as the film focuses on the relationships between the three main characters. But David Stratharin is a standout as Kya’s lawyer Tom Milton, especially in the third act while delivering his unforgettable closing argument that not only begs for the jury to find her innocence, but calls out the injustice at the heart of Kya’s story.
While Taylor Swift’s original song written for the film was front and centre during the marketing campaign for the film and wonderfully captures Kya’s story over the course of the film, it is relegated to the closing credits. It's the last element of the film you experience, but unfortunately won’t remember it when you leave the theatre because it is the characters and performances you will remember.
I normally prefer the novel over the film adaptation, but due to the restructuring of the narrative device used to tell the story, I can easily say that I preferred the film adaptation of Where the Crawdads Sing over the novel despite Owens’s novel being one of the most beautifully written novels I have read in a long time. Daisy Edgar-Jones and Taylor John Smith shine in the big screen adaptation of Delia Owens’s best selling novel, that thanks to some well thought out restructuring of the narrative device used to tell the story and slight changes to build the suspense of the story despite remaining very faithful to the source material, makes Where the Crawdads Sing one of the most riveting dramas of the summer movie season.