'Where the Crawdads Sing': A Faithful, Yet Flawed Adaptation
Considering that it has become one of the best-selling novels of all-time, a film adaptation of Delia Owens's breakthrough novel Where the Crawdads Sing was inevitable. After reading the novel, it's not hard to see why it has been such a runaway success. It's a story full of mystery, romance, and explores themes that many can connect with, such as isolation and justice. It might not be the deepest exploration of these themes, but there is no doubt that this book has resonated with countless readers. When it comes to any book adaptation, there is always a concern of how the source material will translate to the screen. Will it be faithful and mostly stick to the original work? Will it change a lot of things and feel way off from it? Or will it be somewhere in between? Given several elements of the novel, namely its structure and Owens's highly expository writing style, I was fully expecting this film to stray from the source material quite a bit. But despite some tweaks to the structure and narrative, it is a mostly faithful adaptation. This mostly works for the film, as it trims some of the fat from the novel, but it also loses some of its magic in the process.
Alternating between two timelines in the mid-20th century, the film tells the story of a young girl named Kya who grew up in the marshes of North Carolina. In one timeline, we see her life and her interactions with several characters, but she spends most of her time isolated in the marsh. Some of the locals refer to her as "The Marsh Girl", and she is considered an outsider by some of them. In the other timeline, we follow the investigation surrounding the death of Chase Matthews, a former high school quarterback. The timelines slowly intertwine, as Kya's connection to Chase leads the police to suspect her of murdering him. Over the course of the film, we follow her trial, and slowly piece together whether or not she is responsible for Chase's death.
As an adaptation, this film mostly sticks to its source material, only making a few minor changes here and there. It largely has the same alternating structure of the novel, but it feels a little more streamlined here. In addition, the novel is more concerned with telling Kya's story with as much detail as possible, while the film is more concerned with the trial and the investigation. Make no mistake, Kya is still the main focus of the film, but it also eschews some of the extraneous plot points of the earlier timeline in order to strengthen the mystery of the later one. This does help the film from feeling too bloated, but it also comes at the cost of losing some of the specificity of certain elements of the narrative, and reduces certain characters significantly. It trims some of the fat from the novel, but it also feels a bit more hollow in places as a result.
One of the most important elements of both the film and the novel is Kya's relationship to Chase Andrews. The novel fleshes this out a little more, but the film takes a more basic approach that leaves little to the imagination. The characterization of Chase is also questionable, as the novel paints him as an all-American guy, but from the first moment you see him in the film, there is something distrustful about him. He's not the deepest character in the novel, but the film makes him so two-dimensional and generic that it takes the sting out of certain moments involving his character. The film still gets the points it wants to make across with Kya and Chase's relationship and Chase as a whole, but it just doesn't stand out as much compared to the how the novel portrays it.
Thankfully, the film does retain the strong focus on Kya that the novel has. It does cut certain character elements that she has in the novel, but these are rather minor and don't have much bearing on the overall plot. I would argue that the characterization is a tad watered-down in the film, but not by very much. She is still the emotional core of the film and you can't help but feel for her throughout the film. A lot of this is thanks to Daisy Edgar-Jones's portrayal of her. Edgar-Jones is an up and coming actress, and this film will likely be most people's introduction to her. She previously earned rave reviews for her work on the miniseries Normal People, and recently appeared in the film Fresh, but this is easily her most high-profile work to date. It's a rather naturalistic performance, and she feels the most grounded out of the whole cast. It may be a somewhat quieter performance, but it is still powerful, and shows that she has some serious talent. I'm curious to see where her career goes from here, as she has some serious potential.
The film's supporting cast is also great, and is used rather well throughout. David Strathairn is excellent as always, and I honestly could have watched an entire movie of just his character. I was also impressed by Jojo Regina, who plays the younger version of Kya. It's a rather demanding role given the traumatic events the character experiences, but she pulls it off nicely. But the two supporting performances that really stood out to me come from Sterling Macer Jr. and Michael Hyatt. They play a married couple who own a store that Kya frequents, and step in as parental figures after she is abandoned by her family. Macer Jr. has such a great presence throughout the film, and his scenes with Edgar-Jones are some of the best of the film. A scene near the end of the film between the two is heartbreaking, and one of its most powerful moments. As for Hyatt, she takes a character that was a bit more minimized in the novel, and makes her one of the most memorable characters of the film. It helps that the film gives the character more to do, but so much of what makes her stand out is because of Hyatt's performance. She has such an infectious energy in the role, and just so likable. I have always appreciated Hyatt as a performer, but this might be one of my favorite roles I've seen from her to date.
As far as adaptations go, Where the Crawdads Sing is pretty solid despite its flaws. It still has the essence of the novel, even if it doesn't fully capture it overall. That said, it comes very close, and I appreciate it for that. I'm not sure how people who haven't read the book will react to it, but if you have read it and loved it, you will most definitely love this film. The film stays mostly faithful to the novel, and it has a rather strong emotional core to it. I definitely have some issues with certain aspects of the film, but I liked it for the most part. I mainly appreciate how well it translated to the screen, but I do have some nitpicks with some of the finer details. But what it lacks there, it makes up for with a talented cast, led by Daisy Edgar-Jones's great performance, and the emotional wallop that it hits you with throughout the film. It's not a perfect film, but it does work as a great adaptation, and should please fans of the source material.