Movie Review: ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ is interesting yet controversial adaption of best-selling novel

A combination of genres, “Where the Crawdads Sing” stays true to novel’s roots (for the most part)



Kya is the titular character in this thriller-romance-drama set in marshy North Carolina.

MIA PUZZO, Evergreen columnist

I have a love-hate relationship with films based on books. The idea of them is always great, but let us be real, they usually turn out to be a disappointment. 

As a lover of the novel “Where the Crawdads Sing,” I had my doubts the movie would not do the book justice. Thankfully, it was not all a lost cause. 

First-time director Olivia Newman’s film adaption of Delia Owens’s best-selling novel remains faithful to the book’s plot while capturing a romance, murder mystery, drama and thriller all at once. 

Serene skies and green wetlands transport the audience into a different place and time, making you feel the vastness of our heroine’s home. The camera captures an indescribable eeriness through the marshland that makes the audience feel uneasy.

While the details and atmospheric marsh are indeed identical to the book, the movie could lack interest for those who have not read Owens’s novel. The movie is slow at times but has a rapid ending.

Same as the novel, “Where the Crawdads Sing” jumps between two different timelines: the past and present. 

The first timeline tells the story of Kya (Daisy Edgar Jones), who is abandoned by her family and learns to fend for herself in the marshes of North Carolina – except for the help of a local business owner, Jumpin’, and his wife Mabel. Meanwhile, the second timeline shows Kya on trial for the murder of a privileged, local boy, Chase Andrews.

The two timelines are woven together in a way that feels neither abrupt nor forced. 

Over time, the film paints the picture of Kya becoming more outcasted from society. Eventually, the townspeople label her “the marsh girl,” which, due to prejudice, leads them to accuse her of Chase’s murder.

“Where the Crawdads Sing” is unconventional in that it never feels like you are watching the same movie. Some moments seem like they are pulled straight out of a Nicholas Sparks movie, while other scenes scream “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

One of the key differences between the novel and the movie is the way the trial is presented. The audience does not truly see the prosecution case, which would have added a great deal of suspense to the film. As a result, the trial appears somewhat more predictable than in the book. 

Setting aside the plot, Jones does a fantastic job encapsulating Kya’s essence: brave, yet reserved. Jones conveys the hurt and loneliness Kya feels in a way that will make your heart shatter for her. 

While Kya’s character was well-done, the one thing that was missing was her powerful relationship with her first love, Tate (Taylor John Smith).  

Smith does an adequate job playing the sweet, hometown love, however, his lack of screen time left Tate’s character and interactions with Kya feeling underdeveloped. Therefore, when Tate leaves for college and never returns it does not feel like a huge loss. 

When Tate comes back to Kya, there is not the same sympathy felt for his character compared to the novel. While there is supposed to be an obvious “good” and “bad” guy, Tate and Chase appear to both be undeserving of Kya.

Tate was not the only character adaption that disappointed me; I also would have liked to see the character Jumpin’ (Sterling Macer Jr.) have a greater role in the movie, like he did in the book. The film adaption overlooked discussions of Jumpin’ being a Black man in the south during the 1960s. 

Ultimately, the movie is simply missing the cultural verisimilitude that exists in the book. 

In the novel, there are several scenes where Jumpin’ deals with racism, and there is also a scene where Kya helps fight off the bullies. One of the key reasons why Jumpin’ and Kya seem to have such as strong connection in the book is because they both know how it feels to be outcasted. 

Taylor Swift is involved in the movie with her haunting song “Carolina,” which resembles her albums “Folklore” and “Evermore”. However, Swift’s involvement has sparked a larger conversation with some fans, criticizing Swift for repeatedly exercising white feminism

Swift has also taken criticism for taking part in the movie adaption because of the author being linked to a killing of a poacher in Zambia, according to The Atlantic. It is certainly interesting that Owens’ past also includes an unsolved murder, strikingly similar to Kya’s story.

This film has its ups and downs to say the least, but if you enjoy a film that is aesthetically pleasing and atmospheric, I say give it a watch. However, for those who have read the novel, the controversy that exists around the film could taint your view of this majestic book.