What constitutes a perfect Southern summer day? Depending on where you’re from, your answers may vary, but when it comes to the Southeast, especially along the coast, there are some specific defining qualities. Being Southern myself, I’d say it’s something along the lines of the overbearing ringing of cicadas, boating all day until you’re sunburnt, fishing (if you’re the outdoorsy type), the humid night air illuminated with dazzling fireworks and, to top it all off, a good old-fashioned seafood dinner accompanied by a serving of grits. Walking out of the movie theater, all I could think was that Where the Crawdads Sing captures this coastal, Southern summer ever-so-perfectly, in its own rough-and-tumble way.
The movie, a stunning adaptation of Delia Owens‘ renowned number one New York Times best selling novel, centers on a murder trial that shocks and divides the small, fictional North Carolina town of Barkley Cove. It is both a charming depiction of the South, drawling accents and all, and an edge-of-your-seat crime thriller. It all takes place deep in the heart of the marsh. It’s a mixture of all genres, featuring adventure and action, teen romance threatened by a love triangle, an unconventional, self-reliant coming of age tale and a murder mystery all in one.
The movie follows the life of Kya “Marsh Girl” Clark, played by rising star Daisy Edgar-Jones, from childhood to adolescence, as she struggles to navigate a prejudiced town with the absence of a family and very few allies. After the murder of the town’s beloved quarterback heartthrob, Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), Kya finds herself at odds with the majority of her peers due to her murky relationship with the deceased. She must prove her innocence with the support of her first love (and heartbreak), Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) and her sharp, yet kind-hearted lawyer, Tom Milton (David Strathairn). However, her stubbornness and unfavorable reputation pose as major obstacles in her case.
A Perfect Story For The Screen
I can’t think of a better book to adapt than Where the Crawdads Sing. With Owens’ inner-monologue writing style and immense attention to detail, I couldn’t stop imagining the story in my head while reading the book. Years ago, I would have practically done anything to see it as a film, to see Kya’s shell drawings, to picture the beauty of the marsh and watch all the action play out. I must say, my high expectations were met, and then some.
It was one of the best adaptations I’ve watched, even with changes to the plot. I don’t personally think it affected the story to the point of skewing it, and quite honestly, made the story more digestible in a short period of time. The book was great because it was fleshed out over a course of many chapters and hundreds of pages, making for a good, extensive read. However, when I watch a movie, I don’t always want to sit and strain my mind trying to put the pieces together. The changes serve to simplify the plot to not only make the film an easier watch, but understandable to those who haven’t read the original content.
What I think was so amazing about this movie and the story itself was that it’s easily adaptable and translates well into picture. Despite its many twists and turns, overall, it’s a fairly simple and followable plot line. The characters are unique and their actors stand out, with no margin for confusion. Chase and Tate both are distinguishable in looks and mannerisms, despite both representing the Southern male stereotype. Chase leans heavier into the preppy side, defined by pressed button-downs and slicked hair, while Tate wears his flannels and messy ‘do. Kya greatly stands out from the other women in town, with their sleek dresses and pinned hair. Her character is portrayed as wild and unkempt, at times. Each character’s voice and appearance is so present and deliberate, which truly brings the story to life.
The romance is enthralling, with Kya’s first love being so relatable, with all of her adolescent head-over-heels behavior and desperate clinging to hope. Her heartbreak after Tate is even worse—it’s completely real and just devastating. Everyone deals with a total jerk down the line, and the fact that Chase is so lifelike is almost infuriating. The relationships themselves are passionate and are portrayed so beautifully in the good times. Kya’s dates are envy-worthy and almost make you want to go for a sunset swim or ocean-side picnic (but maybe not with a Chase-type). That’s enough to hook some.
I felt much more excited, watching the trial unfold on screen, rather than reading it. The anticipation was almost too much, to the point of annoyance, while reading. In the movie it felt just as anxiety-inducing and thrilling, but much more concise and rewarding, seeing the relief and utter grief on various faces in the court room. It was also satisfying seeing Kya’s support system there. There were so many cases of enjoying a scene more on the screen than I did while reading.
Dare I say it? Where the Crawdads Sing may be better as a movie, though the book is equally as amazing and unique in its own ways.
What Separates Crawdads From The Other Blockbusters?
While Where the Crawdads Sing was a great movie, it didn’t exactly have the same public build up as Top Gun: Maverick or Elvis. This summer has so far been ruled by shirtless pilots with retro mustaches and Austin Butler’s wiggling hips. Prior to buying my tickets, the most I’d heard about Crawdads was from an occasional social media ad or trailer.
During the movie, I realized why it lacked some of the popularity of other summer films: It’s not a sequel to one of the most pop-culturally significant movies in Western culture. It’s not a biopic of one of the most iconic rock and roll legends to walk the planet. It isn’t a star-studded production. It’s a slightly unconventional story, with a slightly unconventional cinematography style—often focusing on nature and surroundings. It’s completely unglamorous and rustic, at times, and also based on a book. Those elements don’t exactly make up everyone’s cup of tea or always draw the eye.
However, it still had a great opening weekend, trailing decently close behind Top Gun and Elvis’ $30 million weekends. It was objectively well-received. It didn’t need the star-power or generational fanbase to accrue its success. Why is that? It’s because Where the Crawdads Sing has enough intrigue.
For people who have read the book, it’s the question of wondering how accurate the film will be—how much justice it will serve the book. For those who are oblivious of the book’s existence, it’s a mysterious murder they’re trying to solve in real time. People also want to know, who is going to win Kya in the love triangle? Just watching the trailer would be enough to get someone hooked on the plot. There is just so much mystery and edge surrounding the movie, that audiences are naturally attracted.
Anyone Can Love This Film
Where the Crawdads Sing was simply an all-around enjoyable film. There were no parts that left me falling asleep or rolling my eyes. Despite being a two-hour film, it felt much shorter, to the point where I was shocked when the credits began to roll. It was such an easy watch, or, more so, a pleasant one.
It wasn’t just me, though. I took my father, who I didn’t exactly expect to be the movie’s target demographic, being in his sixties and not exactly a connoisseur of romance-drama novels. However, he was leaning over to tell me how great the movie was during the movie. Even he found that the plot appealed to him in some ways, relating to the lawyer’s profession and whispering “objection” under his breath during every courtroom scene.
Especially from a Southern perspective, I thought the entire movie was just beautiful and unfortunate, at times, with small town culture’s flaws being portrayed so accurately. Though the film was produced in Louisiana, I still felt at home seeing the live oaks and weeping Spanish moss. Everything—the accents, the improper grammar, the judgement, the swampy surroundings—it was all familiar and inviting. I am so happy to see places and small glimpses of life foreign to the outside, yet so close to my heart, portrayed so beautifully for the rest of the world to see. With Delia Owens being from my own hometown, I can definitely see the real-life influences in her fiction.
Whether you’re a Northerner who’s never even sipped sweet tea, an urban lawyer, or a swamp person yourself, you will enjoy this movie. As the movie raked in $17 million on its opening weekend, it seems many have enjoyed the movie so far. There’s a reason it reigned over the best sellers lists and captured the heart of Reese Witherspoon, who helms Hello Sunshine, the production company behind the film.
If you haven’t seen Where the Crawdads Sing yet, I strongly urge you to do so. If you’re needing a dosage of romance, tears, adrenaline, Southern accents (and Southern boys) or want to just stop rewatching Elvis, this is your perfect summer film.
Featured image via Where the Crawdads Sing Trailer/YouTube