There’s an apparent lack of enthusiasm in the storytelling in “Where the Crawdads Sing,” a bland, boring screen adaptation of the 2018 best-selling novel by author Delia Owens. I suppose that may feel like an unfair criticism of a film where its source material isn’t all that compelling to start with, but despite some attractive visuals of its deep South swamp setting and solid lead performance from Daisy Edgar-Jones, the project is an overall dud.
Set in the 1950s and 60s, Kya (Edgar-Jones) was abandoned by her family as a child and raised herself in the North Carolina marshlands. Now all grown up, she mostly keeps to herself and spends her time drawing, reading, and boating. One day, Kya’s world is turned upside down when one of the local boys is found dead from a presumed murder. It’s a mystery that has rocked the small town, and the locals immediately begin pointing fingers at the misunderstood hermit known as the “Marsh Girl.” Now the lead suspect, Kya enlists the help of kind local attorney Tom Milton (David Strathairn) to argue her case for innocence. As part of the trial, she recounts her life story to the man.
It’s a mediocre mystery (most astute viewers, regardless if they’ve read the novel, will see the “twist” coming a mile away) and a coming-of-age story wrapped into one movie. Nothing about it feels cohesive, with a large chunk of the film focusing on the romance between Kya and Tate (Taylor John Smith), and then the young woman and town ne’er-do-well, Chase (Harris Dickinson). Neither of these relationships are engrossing in the least, and I never once thought of either of these love stories as being one for the ages. The scenes with Kya and Tate are especially forced and flat, their tepid romance fading away without so much as a whisper.
The best elements of the story are Kya’s early years as a young child growing up in an abusive household. As she matures and lives on her own, there’s a spark in the character that’s enjoyable to watch. The mystery aspects of the story are slightly more interesting, but they take a backseat to the love story and eventual courtroom trial. It’s a film that has a bunch of moving parts that never come together with an ounce of harmony.
Fans of the novel may get more enjoyment out of the big screen adaptation of “Where the Crawdads Sing,” but no knowledge of the source material is necessary to follow along. In other words, this lifeless movie is predictable, familiar, and far from challenging.