[Screen It]


(2022) (Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith) (PG-13)

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Drama: A young woman who grew up alone and still lives by herself in the marshy swamp area of coastal North Carolina finds herself on trial for the murder of her past lover.

It's 1969 and Kya Clark (DAISY EDGAR-JONES) is a young woman who's lived alone -- since being abandoned as a child -- in the marsh and swamp area of coastal North Carolina. When the body of Chase Andrews (HARRIS DICKINSON) is found nearby, she's the first and only suspect -- especially since she had a romantic fling with him in the past -- and finds herself in jail awaiting her murder trial.

Retired lawyer Tom Milton (DAVID STRATHAIRN) decides to serve as her defense attorney, and as the trial proceeds we see flashbacks to when Kya (JOJO REGINA) was a young girl living with her abusive father, Pa (GARRET DILLAHUNT)), who eventually drove away her mom and siblings.

Years later, she strikes up a romance with Tate Walker (TAYLOR JOHN SMITH) who befriended her as a child -- much like shop owners Mabel (MICHAEL HYATT) and Jumpin' (STERLING MACER JR.) -- and eventually Chase after that. As the trial heads toward the jury's decision, it's unclear what verdict they'll reach.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

There's the old saying of "it all depends on what you're used to" which basically boils down to how much and for how long one has done something. For instance, when I visited southern Arizona many moons ago, I was somewhat jarred by the mostly barren environs and craggy mountains, not being used to such sights. Conversely, also long ago, I had a coworker who moved from Tucson to the D.C. area and he couldn't stand all of the trees, saying they made him feel claustrophobic.

That's part of the gist of "Where the Crawdads Sing," the film adaptation of author Delia Owens's 2018 work of the same name that's spent about a gazillion weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. I haven't read the novel, so comparisons are moot, but the film focuses on a young woman, Kya Clark (a terrific Daisy Edgar-Jones), who's grown up mostly alone for the past decade-plus in the marshy environs of North Carolina's coast.

She's used to being self-dependent and on her own, as well as having most of the local townsfolk -- save for small market owners Mabel (Michael Hyatt) and Jumpin' (Sterling Macer Jr.) -- look down on her, her upbringing (or lack thereof), and being an oddity who they have not so affectionately nicknamed "marsh girl." That, her tumultuous childhood, and her coming of age all come to a head when a young man's body is found in the swampy marsh at the foot of a fire observation tower where a metal floor grid is missing.

Did he accidentally fall through that opening to his demise? Was it a suicide? Or was it something more nefarious, you know, like MURDER!!!! The sheriff and his deputy automatically assume that Marsh Girl is the most likely perp and waste no time in arresting and charging her in the murder of Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) who just so happens to have been her lover of recent. That, and some fabric found on the body that perfectly matches a cap found in her shack of a home seems to be a slam dunk for the prosecution.

Not so fast says lawyer Tom Milton (David Strathairn) who decides to come out of retirement to serve as her defense attorney mainly, it appears, because he's simply a nice do-gooder who doesn't want to see an innocent person be railroaded. And thus begins our tale -- directed by Olivia Newman from a screenplay adaptation by Lucy Alibar -- that, well, ends up falling squarely into the "what you're used to" category of both murder mysteries and coming-of-age flicks.

Accordingly, the story jumps back and forth through time -- with some assistance via voice-over narration from Kya -- including when the suspect was a young girl (an equally terrific JoJo Regina) whose abusive, alcoholic father (Garret Dillahunt) eventually drove away his wife and the rest of Kya's siblings, thus leaving the poor girl to live like a mouse in the house of a monster who could explode at any moment.

Thankfully for her, she ends up getting a friend in a local boy who grows up into Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) who teaches her how to read and write and introduces her to romance. But college eventually calls, he leaves, and sometime later she meets Chase. He's one of those entitled rich kids who most anyone would want to punch in the face due to his behavior and attitude, but she falls for his charms, and we know what comes next.

And that might be the film's biggest issue. For a film revolving around a love triangle as mixed with a judicial whodunit plot, it's fairly easy to predict where things are headed in what otherwise feels like a glossy and gussied-up TV movie about young love and murder.

Thankfully, the actresses playing the protagonist do make you care about her and her plight, while cinematographer Polly Morgan certainly makes the marshy and swampy environs look beautifully inviting. In the end, I liked it enough to give "Where the Crawdads Sing" a slight recommendation and a score of 5.5 out of 10.

Posted July 15, 2022

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