This special reward is available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 monthly levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Bekah Lindstrom.
Where the Crawdads Sing (2022)
Written by Lucy Alibar
Directed Olivia Newman
I know this movie is not made for people like me. However, it was a Patron request, and I honor those. If you loved the book and/or adore the film, you probably will not like my review. One of the best things I can say about my experience watching this movie is, “Thank god for the ability to speed up playback.” I successfully turned this two-hour-plus viewing into just over 90 minutes which I think is the sweet spot for this type of movie. I argue that most movies should clock in around 90; if they go over that, they must justify taking up more people’s time. This is nowhere close to being the worst movie I have ever seen, but that would have at least made it fun to watch. Unfortunately, it is a flat, passionless, inauthentic drivel like most American movies. It is not offensive but doesn’t make you feel anything. It manipulates rather than attempts to draw up some truth about the human experience through its story. Also, I see an absence of truth in advertising because not once do we get to see the singing crawdads.
A dead body is found in the marshlands of North Carolina circa 1969. It is local sports hero Chase Andrews (Harris Dickson), and the blame is placed on Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a reclusive swamp lady. Through extensive flashbacks, we learn Kya’s life story, from being raised by a drunken & violent father (Garret Dillahunt) to her romance with Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith). Eventually, Tate leaves for college, which Kya doesn’t have access to due to her economic class. In Tate’s absence, she begins a relationship with Chase. But that is complicated with Tate returning after a long period of absence. Oh, the love triangle. Kya also embarks on a career as a nature illustrator, using her artistic gift to sketch and draw the lovely things she sees in the swamp around her. We also get a courtroom drama as the flashbacks share the spotlight with present-day goings on.
In the vein of The Notebook, this is pure melodrama. It’s not the kind I particularly like. If I watch a film in this genre, I would prefer things like Douglas Sirk’s movies or Todd Haynes’ takes on melodramas. The relationships in the picture don’t feel genuine; they are very much of the contrived Hollywood type that often distorts & presents a twisted version of how real romance & love work. As escapist fare, I think this will satisfy the audience looking for this sort of thing. I think the story is very much in the line of Pygmalion, My Fair Lady, and the other films & stories that follow the “diamond in the rough” trope. There’s a murder mystery added on to help differentiate it. The reveal at the end about the circumstances around Chase’s death was pretty good, but for me, it didn’t make up for the overall tone & quality of the picture.
Having recently revisited some Tennessee Williams stories via my May series titled “The American Theater on Film, Volume One,” I realized how lacking in genuine passion this story was. The romance feels cookie cutter, and neither male character ever felt like someone you could see a real girl falling for beyond just as a side fuck. The “artsy” young women I’ve known acknowledge the surface-level beauty of dudes like Tate & Chase and may even call them up when they are horny. But ultimately, they are looking for some depth to go along with the exterior beauty.
There’s such an inauthenticity in how these characters are presented. We are constantly reminded that Kya is a “dirty swamp rat” in the same way She’s All That was desperate for us to believe Rachel Leigh Cook was a dog. It is a suspension of disbelief that is such a big ask it becomes comical. In many ways, this is up there with the dreck Marvel puts out in that almost every person that appears on screen is insanely gorgeous when I know, having grown up in the South, most people do not look like this. How refreshing would it have been to cast people that look real? It would have added so much more to the narrative. But that is not why this was made into a movie. It was made for audiences to swoon over the “beautiful” people on screen. This movie didn’t invent this but man, is it boring to keep seeing it churned out year after year.
If you are an adult who has ever, let’s say, read a book, watched a television show, or seen another movie, then nothing about this plot will surprise you. It’s like a copy/paste of every melodrama made with little effort to spice it up. The male leads look interchangeable. The characters are all hetero. There are two mandatory kindly Black people whose entire purpose is to help Kya feel better about herself.
I think there is a real heart-wrenching story deep in the fluff that could have made a compelling movie. However, this focuses on nothing but the fluff. It’s part of a massive genre of disposable films being made in America. If you ever look at the weekly dump of streaming cinema, you’ll find an avalanche of pictures. They are a form of money laundering for a whole host of criminal organizations, both domestic and international. This is nowhere near the worst; it had a theatrical release. But you will forget it almost as soon as the end credits roll. The romance is undercooked and thus dull to watch. The camera does occasionally give us a beautiful shot of nature. If young people find some enjoyment in the movie, that’s fine. It’s not offensive. It’s just a big disappointing yawn.