‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ Review: An Underwhelming Book-to-Film Adaptation? Now I’ve Seen it All

Several years ago, OJ Simpson wrote a book about the murder of his ex-wife Nicole titled “If I Did It.” On an unrelated note, the author of “Where the Crawdads Sing,” a book about an author who is accused of murder, is herself wanted in connection to an unsolved murder. Anyways.

“Where the Crawdads Sing” is based on the best-selling 2018 novel by Delia Owens, and follows a young woman (Daisy Edgar-Jones) who grows up alone in the marshes of 1960s North Carolina, only to be accused of murdering her boyfriend (Harris Dickinson). Taylor John Smith, Michael Hyatt, Sterling Macer, Jr., and David Strathairn also star, as Olivia Newman directs and Reese Witherspoon produces.

Like many Hollywood adaptations, I did not read this book; I’m not its demo. Upon going to the theater, I was also one of just a handful of men in attendance, all of whom were with their wives and girlfriends (or in my case, my lovely mother). So while I am about to lay out the reasons I wasn’t a huge fan of “Crawdads,” you can take some solace in the fact every member of my auditorium, and social media feeds, with two X chromosomes seemed to eat it up and enjoy themselves.

Of the problems this film has, none of them are Daisy Edgar-Jones. After getting a Golden Globe nomination for the miniseries “Normal People” and then starring in this spring’s fun thriller “Fresh,” Edgar-Jones is a star on the rise. Here she gives a dedicated performance, swallowing anger and resentment to remain strong for herself. She’s unfortunately hindered by the script, but she at least finally gets the dramatic leading role she deserves.

The rest of the cast is solid enough, with Taylor John Smith and Harris Dickinson both playing Edgar-Jones’ fit, blonde boyfriends. They do what they need to for the story, but you never feel any true romantic tension or chemistry with them and Edgar-Jones. The always likable (and possibly under-appreciated?) David Strathairn is warm as Edgar-Jones’ lawyer.

The biggest problem with the film is its script, and how director Olivia Newman handles it. While the novel (to my knowledge) unfolds in real-time from 1952 to 1970, the film jumps around, beginning with the discovery of the body and arrest of Edgar-Jones and then showing subsequent flashbacks. This tactic has been used in films before and used well (“The Usual Suspects,” “Memento”), however here it really only hinders any true momentum and flow. Because we don’t really care about the central love stories due to the standard dialogue, whenever we leave the present day trial scenes (by far the best part of the film) for flashbacks, things get a lot less interesting.

The film’s central mystery is also not executed the best, not really giving us many alternative possibilities or suspects, then rushing to wrap things up before the credits role without fully explaining the what and the how.

“Where the Crawdads Sing” is yet another in a long line of popular books turned into a movie that misses the mark. I don’t think any book is “unfilmable,” Ang Lee pretty much blew that notion out the water in 2012 with “Life of Pi.” But you need to find ways to make stories from the page work on the big screen, and the changes made here simply weren’t for the better. Had the film stuck the landing a bit better then perhaps I could’ve been convinced to be a little more lenient, however I just simply did not care about anything or anyone in this. Not a bad movie, just a bland one, and sometimes that’s the worst crime of all.

Critics Rating: 4/10

Sony Pictures

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