Review: ‘Crawdads’ disappoints as a romance and back-door thriller

Daisy Edgar-Jones in Where the Crawdads Sing (Columbia Pictures)

My hopes were that “Where the Crawdads Sing” would be the perfect palate cleanser from this year’s roll call of super-hero, action, and animated fare that has dominated theaters as the movie industry attempts to bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic.

I have no problem with any of those genres, but a nice drama or romance every now and then balances the entertainment scales.

Unfortunately a pedestrian script dashed those hopes.

This film based on the Delia Owens’ best-selling novel seeps deep into melodrama and offers a twist of sorts that any movie-goer over the age of 12 could see coming a mile away. This review does contain what most would consider “spoilers,” although I won’t reveal the twist.

Lucy Albar’s by-the-numbers screenplay gave director Olivia Newman very little to work with in the this movie that treads ground very close to the rote-manner of a Hallmark movie with just enough edge to earn it a PG-13 rating. Newman’s not totally off the hook, though. Directors can play with the script to make the film more interesting, but that wasn’t in the cards with this movie.

That said the film, set in the late 1950s and 1960s, does feature gorgeous cinematography of the swampy landscape by Polly Morgan that does lift the effort to a watchable level. Likewise the cast turns in effective performances throughout that serve the picture well, but unfortunately they can’t save the movie from all the leaps in credibility found in the script.

The film’s format features lead character Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones and Jojo Regina as a child) jailed for the murder of a well-heeled, former high school football star Chase (Harris Dickinson).

While awaiting trial, Kya reminisces about her hardscrabble youth where she is abandoned one at a time by all the members of her family, who are driven off by her father’s issues with PTSD and alcohol.

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Taylor John Smith in Where the Crawdads Sing (Columbia Pictures)

When he finally bolts, too, Kya, who only attends one day of school, must fend for herself through late childhood and adolescence by digging muscles from the marsh and selling them to support herself. Thanks to the help of kindly African-American couple Mabel (Michael Hyatt) and Jumping (Sterling Macer Jr.), Kya is able to survive and eventually thrive.

Known around town as “The Marsh Girl,” Kya is the object of ridicule to almost everyone but Tate (Taylor John Smith and Luke David Blumm as a child), who befriends the young girl and ultimately develops a chaste-romantic relationship with her before heading off to college.

The uneducated Kya is somewhat of a genius with fantastic artistic skills she developed by living and observing nature. Taught to read by Tate, Kya begins to chronicle the nature around her and becomes so adept through her study and art that she acquires a book deal, chronicling the sea shells of the area where she lives.

If it reminds you of “Forrest Gump,” it’s in that neighborhood of silly on an unintentional level., It’s just without the humor and the occasional meetings with famous entertainment and historical figures that made that movie so entertaining. On second thought, the plot might work as an update of the origin of Pippi Longstocking. But, I digress.

After Tate heads off to college, Kya develops a relationship with Chase. While she is attracted to him, she doesn’t seem to really love him, but remains with him for comfort and the company.

Michael Hyatt and Jojo Regina in Where the Crawdads Sing (Columbia Pictures)

While Chase does speak to her of marriage, Kya learns that she’s actually his back-door lover because he is engaged to marry another young women that is more of his station.

When she spurns Chase on the beach, he slugs her several times and attempts to rape her before she conks him on the head with a rock to escape.

By this point, Tate has returned to the area after college and would like to reignite his romance with her. He convinces Kya to keep her out-of-town meeting with her publishing company despite her bruises.

While she is out of town, Chase’s dead body is found by a couple of kids near a tall observation tower. Though no physical evidence is found on the tower, there is an assumption Chase was murdered. A red toboggan that originally belonged to Tate is found in Kya home. It matches fibers found on Chase’s body. This sets up the court-room drama aspect of the film.

I won’t reveal more, but if any of this sounds interesting, I’d suggest reading the book rather than seeing the film.

Again I liked the performances. Edgar-Jones, Smith, and Dickinson are solid, though not spectacular in the lead roles, and the movie is deftly shot with gorgeous scenery. However, with such a slipshod story, the cinematography and acting was not enough to win me over.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 5 min.
Grade: C-

New in Local Theaters

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Classic Corner – Cabaret

Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli in Cabaret (Allied Artists Pictures)

In honor of its 50th anniversary, one of the most decorated Hollywood musicals ever, “Cabaret” returns to the big screen at the Malco Razorback Cinema, thanks to Fathom Events at 3 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Set in 1931 Berlin, as the Nazi party begins its rise to power, flamboyant American Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) sings in a decadent nightclub and falls in love with a British language teacher (Michael York) — who also is in a homosexual relationship with a German-born baron.

However, Sally’s small, carefree, tolerant, and fragile cabaret world is about to be crushed under the boot of the Nazis as Berlin becomes a trap from which Sally’s German friends will not escape in this ground-breaking film version of the Broadway musical “Cabaret.”

The movie garnered eight Academy Awards: Best Actress in a Leading Role — Liza Minnelli, Best Director — Bob Fosse, Best Actor in a Supporting Role — Joel Grey, Best Music Scoring, Best Original Song Score and/or Adaptation, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound.

The film did not win Best Picture. “The Godfather” took that Oscar along with Best Actor for Marlon Brando.

The movie vaulted Minnelli, the daughter of Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli, to A-list star status. However, she never scored another hit of the magnitude of “Cabaret” the rest of her career.

The film took its inspiration from three sources — the book “Berlin Stories” by Christopher Isherwood, the Broadway play “I Am a Camera.” which” inspired the Broadway musical “Cabaret,” written by Joe Masteroff.

This 50th anniversary event includes exclusive insights from Turner Classic Movies. As the title song goes, “Come to the Cabaret, ol’ chum.”