Friday, 2 September 2022

Where The Crawdads Sing (2022) - Movie Review

When I first saw the trailer for this film, I had two immediate reactions to it: Feeling like I had seen the whole film already just from the trailer, and that the film was going to be a lot if that was even remotely accurate. It’s a coming-of-age survival story, it’s a romance, it’s a parable on the Other, it’s about prejudice, and it’s also a courtroom murder mystery; even at two hours long, this is already looking overstuffed. And indeed, there’s a lot going on here… but that only makes it even more astounding that it ends up as insubstantial as it does.

But let’s at least try and give credit where it’s due before I start frothing at the mouth at how boring this shit is. The visuals courtesy of DP Polly Morgan, who also provided excellent work for A Quiet Place Part II, give a breathtaking view of the North Carolina marshes that the story takes place in. A lot of the dialogue and even the main character’s personality, basically, are tied into a connection with nature, viewing relationships between people in food-chain terms at times, and it certainly gives a serene and rather beautiful perspective on that foundation.

Then there’s Daisy Edgar-Jones as said main character, Kya AKA The Marsh Girl, and just from seeing her here, I’m interested to see how Fresh turned out; if she’s able to breathe life into this nonsense, I want to see her chew through a script worth reciting. She’s been handed an extremely fiddly character profile here, essentially being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (or perhaps a Manic Nymph Dream Girl, given the whole ‘one with nature’ thing) that lives a reclusive life in the marsh, but she plays it with just the right balance of innocence and strength to make it work. With how much the script lingers on the brutality and prejudice she is landed with, both as a child and as an adult, her leaving the film with actual agency as a person is probably the only impressive thing to be found here.

Okay, now let’s get into the shitshow. For starters, even though it opens with the murder mystery and Kya being sent to jail before standing trial, it is maddening how little it actually factors into the plot. For some reason, the filmmakers decided to cover Kya’s entire life story, from her childhood dealing with her abusive father (Garret Dillahunt stuck with a paper-thin caricature), to growing up on her own, to her romantic entanglements. As a result, it takes a solid hour before we get to any story details that actually have anything to do with the murder mystery itself. I get that it’s here for character building, showing Kya’s trauma to do with her abandonment issues, but there had to have been a way to portray this that didn’t feel like it was distracting from what the film opened with.

From there, the romantic subplots involving Tate (Taylor John Smith) and the deceased Chase (Harris Dickinson) read like a Nicholas Sparks story with all the unintended camp surgically removed. They’re just as contrived, just as wafer-thin in making the characters feel like actual people and not just sentient plot apparatuses, and delivered with all the scintillating chemistry of a broken test tube. Except, while watching all of this swamp gas fumigate the screen, I found myself looking back on The Best Of Me, The Longest Ride, and even The Choice, and realising that at least I was able to laugh at how stupid those film were. Here, it’s quite difficult to give a damn about what’s taking place, which makes the murder trial (when the film can focus long enough to even get to it) just as tricky to get invested in, since it’s directly tied into that romantic underpinning.

It tries to ruminate on so many different things, like prejudice and being Othered and the result of physical and sexual abuse, but never goes any further than ‘things happen’ as far as commenting on any of it. There’s something in how it connects being Othered with the act of abandonment, and Daisy Edgar-Jones is doing her best to spin that into proper dramatic catharsis, but for all its musings on nature and its appeals to the beauty of it, it is frankly embarrassing how artificial and shallow this is.

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