Rating: 3 out of 5.

(Written by Allison Brown)

The opening notes of Taylor Swift’s “Carolina,” the original song playing through all the promotional material and written as a result of Swift’s adoration for the novel, have embedded the anticipation to see Where The Crawdads Sing in my very core for the past few months. The involvement of one of my favorite actresses, Reese Witherspoon, and her company, Hello Sunshine, made the film a must-see from the initial murmurings of its production. In her introduction, Witherspoon shared that she chose the New York Times Best Seller for her book club before it was even published! I jumped at the opportunity to attend the world premiere, and I was not disappointed.

Given my lack of familiarity with the written material, I can’t say how true the movie is to the book, and therefore, cannot gauge the future sentiment of its massive following. I personally enjoyed my viewing despite its very long run time, which could probably shave off a few minutes. It does take a bit of time for the plot to get going, but once it does, it is hard not to be hooked. Where The Crawdads Sing is a romance film through and through, with hints of mystery and toxic masculinity. The thriller angle feels barely present. It is made for women, by women, and that is no surprise given the marketing. I am always a fan of female-led productions! I could easily see it among the ranks of a particularly great Lifetime film, although it is obviously better quality with multi-layered performances and striking visuals. The overall aesthetic evokes elements of the V.C. Andrews movies set in the south that Josh and I have grown to love, yet the narrative is a bit tamer (with the exception of an uncomfortable rape scene), and more mainstream.

That’s not to say our lead here, Kya Clark, played by the wonderfully talented Daisy Edgar-Jones (Fresh, Normal People, Under the Banner of Heaven), has much less of a deplorable upbringing. She is raised by an abusive father (Garret Dillahunt) and a mother (Ahna O’Reilly), who eventually has had enough to discreetly escape and abandon her children. One by one, Kya’s siblings take off, leaving brother Jodie (Logan Macrae) as the last, until she is left utterly alone with Pa. Jodie leaves her with a warning: “if you are in trouble, run deep into the marsh where the crawdads sing.” Kya tries to attend school, but she is bullied for her lack of education and disheveled appearance; she doesn’t make it past mere minutes. Eventually Pa leaves as well, and she is forced to fend for herself at a very young age. It is hard not to feel for Kya as she must grow up far too soon. The marsh becomes her only friend and place of refuge. She supports herself by harvesting mussels to then sell to a local store in exchange for food. The shopkeepers, Jumpin’ (Sterling Macer Jr.) and Mabel (Michael Hyatt), look out for Kya, and in effect, become surrogate parents. Nevertheless, she lives completely alone in the home her entire family has abandoned, and continues to live outside society.

A neighbor from Kya’s early childhood, Tate (Taylor John Smith), eventually resurfaces, and leaves her small trinkets like feathers so she doesn’t feel as isolated. The entire town has deemed Kya to be “marsh girl,” but Tate does not see her that way. He seems to be the only person to offer her any kindness, and helps her come into her own. He teaches her how to read and write, stimulates a fascination with nature, and Kya finally begins to come out of her shell. Tate sees her for who she is and elevates her natural intelligence to the surface. Their chemistry is enticing; Edgar-Jones and Smith are fantastic together on screen. Bursting their delightful little bubble, Tate must go off to college and assures Kya he will return. That must be seen to be believed…

Constructed of flashbacks to Kya’s upbringing and modern-day scenes of the court case in action, Where The Crawdads Sing combines the best of both worlds. Half riveting court drama, half meandering love story tinged with misfortune. After her devastatingly tragic upbringing, Kya is thrown into more hardship. She is accused of the murder of quarterback Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), with whom she had been romantically entangled. All signs point to her innocence, and the town’s prejudice towards Kya seems to be the intention behind her arrest. The film takes some time to build up to their tryst, but once Chase is introduced, it is clear that the audience is about to be taken on a wild ride. At times, the flashback narrative overpowers the court scenes, as some of the witness questioning begins to drag. The film is at its best displaying characters falling in love, or depicting the horrid behavior of the despicable people that cross Kya’s path.

There are points in which the narrative tries too hard to capture the emotionality of classic and beloved romance films. A homemade necklace, which becomes a key piece of evidence in the murder case, seems to allude to 1997’s Titanic. A rushed scene towards the end (with characters growing old together) tries to capture a snippet of the emotionality in 2004’s The Notebook. I am not ashamed to say I did tear up in the final scenes, but it almost felt inevitable. All in all, Where The Crawdads Sing is a worthwhile watch, given one is part of the target audience and loves girly films. It may not be groundbreaking material, but it is a compelling story.

Where The Crawdads Sing digs a fresh grave when it debuts exclusively in theaters on Friday, July 15th.

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