Crawdads — a waste of time that fetishes poverty

Daisy Edgar-Jones in Where The Crawdads Sing

Daisy Edgar-Jones in Where The Crawdads Sing

BEN O’GORMAN

The much anticipated adaptation of the best seller Where The Crawdads Sings was released last week.

Produced by Reece Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine Productions, who previously have had great success adapting other popular books like Little Fires Everywhere and Big Little Lies.

Where The Crawdads Sing hopes to mirror their success on TV in the cinemas. The book follows the story of “Marsh Girl” Kya Clark. Growing up in an abusive home in North Carolina she learns to fend for herself from a young age.

Later in life things are looking up and she gets a book deal after she has catalogued the local flora and fauna of the marsh but when her former boyfriend turns up dead, she is instantly deemed the number one suspect in the case. Now I will say, I haven’t read the novel, and I am told it’s excellent so I’m not making any judgement on the book.

Unfortunately I found this film to be quite bad. When a film really works, you forgive it all kinds of mistakes and allow it some wiggle room. So it was a bad sign when I noticed quite early that Kya did not have shoes till she was 13 but she clearly had access to a terrific orthodontist. She has a truly spectacular set of straight white teeth.

When those thoughts enter your mind its fair to say you’re not exactly getting caught up in the narrative being spun. I mean this girl has been living in the swamp for her whole life but she has teeth and skin that a Love Island contestant would die for. Kya is played by Daisy Edgar-Jones, who only seems to star in films and tv based on best selling books.

She was terrific as Marianne in Normal People and was even better again in the TV adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s Under The Banner Of Heaven earlier this year. She’s far from the worst thing in this film but that is quite a low bar.

We have seen Edgar-Jones act with depth and nuance but this film isn’t interested in anything below surface level. It really is a waste of her talents. I felt the film uncomfortably fetishes poverty. I would imagine a real girl, brought up with no shoes for years, illiterate and physically abused by her father might struggle a little more than Kya does.

Kya has a book deal by the time she’s 19. The point the film makes is Kya is not a normal poor person. When it is pointed out by her lawyer that she is a smart intelligent young women, he apologises to her on behalf of the town, well what of the poor people who are not gifted naturalists?

Is it fair to treat them badly like they did before her gifts were discovered? There is more than a slight whiff of the ‘ideal victim’ here which makes me think we are watching a film from the 1990s. God this film annoyed me.

All that aside, the film is at its best when Kya is meeting with her lawyer, who’s played by David Straithairn. He does not have much to work here with though but it’s always good to see him on screen. He plays a Atticus Finch type folksy southern lawyer who does his best with a limited script and limited screen time.

The rest of the cast are entirely forgetful, her love interests are bland Ken Dolls and the Black couple who look after her, edge dangerously close to Magical Negro territory.

I’m not the first critic who will compare this film to the works of Nicholas Sparks, the literary giant who wrote The Notebook, A Walk To Remember and has sold millions of books in airports all around the world. They are pretty much all the same plot, a young white women finding love in a small town in the Carolinas. However I have noticed, when people reference Sparks they add a caveat, that “they don’t mean it pejoratively”. Well I do. He’s a boring, vaguely right wing, saccharine writer.

The worst of his genre is on full display here. I do wonder if this would be better as a six part tv series. Not because there is any hidden depth that could have been drawn out if given more time. But honestly because it is a boring film but with beautiful scenery, I might have enjoyed this more if it was on TV because I could have completed a few levels of angry birds on my phone, or caught up with my friends in our WhatsApp group while the show was progresses, glancing up at the animals and swamps like a nature documentary.

Unfortunately it’s a movie in the cinema so I had to give it my undivided attention for two hours. What a waste of time.

 

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