‘Where the Crawfish Sing’ Is a Horribly Bad Spoon Feeding Melodrama Adaptation

For those unfamiliar with Delia Owens’ bestselling novel Where the Crawfish Sing – this terribly bad big screen adaptation is like Nicholas Sparks’ rewrite of “Where the Crayfish Sing” To Kill a Mockingbird and stripped out all racial elements.

Crayfish can’t sing, but Taylor Swift can.

The film was directed so gently that one might think it was made by Ron Howard. The blame goes to Olivia Newman, who has no sense of rhythm. The story jumps over time, and the editing is clumsy. Acting is painfully serious. The story involves murder, but the courtroom scene that follows has no tension. The love triangle that develops has no passion. Crayfish can’t sing, but Taylor Swift can.

The film is set in 1969 in (fictional) Buckley Bay, North Carolina. Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) explains that “a swamp is not a swamp” and, “the swamp knows everything about death.” She is the “Swamp Girl”, a young woman abandoned by her family; her father (Galle T Dilla Hunt) abused her, driving her mother and siblings away before he left on his own. Kya is a teenager who lives alone in a swamp and mainly paints shells, insects and other natural images.

The film opens with some children finding the body of Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson). Kya, who was barely introduced, was suspected of murder (and presumed guilty) because she was a local outsider. Fortunately, Kya does have sympathy from Tom Milton (David Strathairn), a retired lawyer who defends her. Strathairn played Tom less like a stoic Atticus Finch and more like a stammering Jimmy Stewart. His “oops, crap” quality is surprisingly irritating. Tom claims he wants to “get to know” Kaia so he can keep her off death row, so the film tells her story.

“Where Crawdads Sing” jumps back to 1953, when she went to school barefoot, unkempt and unable to spell the word “dog”, she was neglected, abused and teased. She does get some goodwill from Jumpin (Sterling Macer Jr.) and Mabel (Michael Hyatt), a black couple who run a local store. They give her shoes, encourage her education, and generally take care of her. At one point, the Department of Social Services asked Jumpin about Kya, but that plot line was dropped and never brought up again. Incredibly, Jumpin and Mabel don’t get older during the film’s main period (1953-1969), and despite being the only black people in the film, they don’t seem to encounter any racism either.

The film haphazardly switches back and forth to the courtroom where Kya was tried (some viewers may be whipped). Testimony and evidence against “Swamp Girl” such as Red Fiber, which may have been a red herring, was provided, but Tom Milton shrewdly refutes it all.

Newman’s direction is so slow, the film never finds a rhythm.

The main narrative focuses on Kya’s love for Tate (Taylor John Smith), who brings her feathers and teaches her to read. The montage depicts their budding relationship, so unremarkable eyes may glaze over. As Tate talks about his tragic past, leaves begin to swirl in the wind and the couple kiss in a romantic moment. Apparently, director Olivia Newman wanted this scene in The Notebook’s heady couple kissing in the rain. Instead, the audience may go down in unconscious hysteria.

While Tate was gentle enough – he cared too much about Kaia having sex with her – he did break her heart when he left to go to college. Even more damaging, he broke his promise to reunite with her on July 4th. Kya put on lipstick and makeup for Tate’s return, gloomy in a way she hadn’t seen since the original “Stella Dallas.” And, as if the desperation wasn’t obvious enough, Kya expressed her disappointment that her “heartache” oozes like water and sand. Cut to the image of water and sand, as if Newton wasn’t sure the audience could understand the metaphor.

Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) in “Where the Crayfish Sing” (Sony Pictures)

“Where the Crayfish Sing” often uses very gentle voiceovers, dialogue, and exaggerated imagery to imbue the audience with everything they need to know. For many viewers who read the book, there were no real narrative surprises (including the big “trap” twist). But sure, the story could be told in a way—say, linearly—that would inject some much-needed drama into this overheated melodrama. Newman’s direction is so slow, the film never finds a rhythm.

Acting is also distracting. Daisy Edgar-Jones seems to be totally wrong here.

When Chase comes into the picture, he starts courting Kya for reasons she doesn’t know at first. (Spoiler: He’s just horny.) Chase fills in Tate’s absence in Kya’s lonely, isolated, abandoned, remote, and secluded life. But his character is too immature to be of much interest – until he starts abusing Kya. Of course, the fact that she was overheard threatening to kill Chase in a scene was made public in court as conclusive evidence that she was guilty of murder. Tips for respite from the Peanuts gallery.

It’s a shame that the movie crammed most of the book into two hours. It might be better developed as a miniseries, where it explores or at least develops its ideas and characters. The film only really scratches the surface of any key issues raised, such as domestic and sexual abuse of women. Kya was nearly raped in one scene and refused to discuss it with authorities because she felt her claims would not be believed or supported. The last 10 minutes of “Where the Lobster Sing” covers so much time, so fast, it’s dizzying. But in the end, Mabel is old!

Newton’s focus on the murders and Kya’s two romances downplay an arguably more interesting story: a young, independent woman educated and earning a living on her own.

Acting is also distracting. Daisy Edgar-Jones seems to be totally wrong here. As a “wild” young woman whom everyone thought was “rubbish”, she was completely unconvincing. Her wide eyes showed disbelief at every opportunity, which seemed to be her default expression. Just being treated well when young Kya looks back at Mabel through the storefront window, it provides the only poignant moment of the movie. When an adult Kya glares at Tate or Chase angrily, it feels empty.

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Plus, Edgar Jones has little chemistry with her two male actors. Both Tyler John Smith and Harris Dickinson look like they’ve come off the pages of the Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue — Kya clearly has a type — but both actors act lazily. That’s forgivable for Smith, who plays the really good guy, but Dickinson, who’s usually charismatic on screen, is strangely lacking in charisma here, and it’s deadly.

Strathairn and Dillahunt are getting ready to do some scenic munching, but it’s possible Newton doesn’t believe they’ll take it lightly. Sterling Macer Jr. and Michael Hyatt did a great job as Jumpin and Mabel.

“Where the Lobster Sings” is a disappointing adaptation. It’s very much like a swamp: tepid, motionless.

“Where the Lobster Sings” hits theaters July 15. Watch the trailer via YouTube.

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