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Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) in Columbia Pictures’ WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

The protagonist of “Where the Crawdads Sing” seems to have a superpower. No, it’s not her ability to grow up in the North Carolina wilderness, nor her impressive talent for sketching nature. It’s the fact that despite living literally in a swamp, her hair never suffers from a shred of frizz — never more than a few stray strands artfully tousled like she’s in a Garnier Fructis commercially. It’s a scientific marvel that long-haired people in humid climates around the world would surely love to study. Unfortunately, it’s also a testament to all the texture and bite this swampy coming-of-age tale lacks.

Where the Crawdads Sing is based on the hugely popular, bestselling novel of the same name by Delia Owens. Jones) grows like a flower through concrete in a harsh world of the 1950s and 60s, despite the best efforts of an uncaring and often cruel community. But it plays more like a lustrous Nicholas Sparks-flavoured melodrama than a story that actually has a meaningful connection to the chaotic real world – wetland or otherwise.

About Where the Crawdads Sing: Part courtroom thriller, part romantic melodrama

“Where the Crawdads Sing” starts in 1969 and is anchored by a courtroom drama. When a local gold boy named Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) is found dead in the woods, Kya is tried for murder despite the meager evidence. (He may have just died in a random accident.) When a sympathetic lawyer named Tom Milton (David Strathairn) agrees to represent her, Kya finally recounts the unusual life story that has made her an outcast in the town that known as “Marsh Girl”. ”

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Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Tom (David Strathairn) in Columbia Pictures’ WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

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Her once happy childhood was marred by abuse from her alcoholic father (Garret Dillahunt), who slowly drove Kya’s mother and siblings away before eventually disappearing himself. Scarred by abandonment but determined to survive on her own, young Kya (Jojo Regina) makes a living by collecting seashells and selling them to a sympathetic local couple (Michael Hyatt and Sterling Macer Jr.), who become one operates a gas station and a bait shop. Laughed out of school for her bare feet and inability to read, she decides to embrace nature as her teacher instead, sealing her fate as a town misfit.

Yet a story that feels like it should be brought to life with the R-rated grit of something like Jennifer Lawrence’s “Winter’s Bone” instead always reverts to a clearer narrative mode, even with a potential murder in the picture. As Kya grows into young adulthood, her isolated life is defined by romantic relationships with two men: the shy, kind Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith), who teaches her to read and with whom she shares the joys of first love, and the self-assured , charming Chase – the man who will eventually end up dead in the swamp. But did Kya really kill him? If yes why? And if not, who else could be the culprit?

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Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) in Columbia Pictures’ WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

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It’s a much-needed engine to add some juice to this story, because otherwise there just isn’t much of it there there. Like its brilliantly styled lead, “Crawdads” lacks a sense of texture in its characterizations. Despite Kya’s unusual youth, Edgar-Jones mostly plays her as a shy, unassuming young woman – no more socially awkward than your average YA protagonist. Aside from her penchant for ducking behind a tree when she hears someone approaching, there’s little about her that feels wild or untamed or socially uncouth in a way that people would find repulsive. Sure, part of the film’s message is that people can be unnecessarily cruel, but at some point it becomes hard to believe that a young white woman so pretty and reserved would have a hard time evoking sympathy from her neighbors.

This mismatched conventionality carries over into Kya’s love life, which lacks a distinct sexuality or even sensuality to match her unorthodox upbringing; no tangible pleasure commensurate with their love of nature. Although we’re told that Kya has a wild, free-spirited side, she never comes across as sweetly unassuming, and totally conforms to 1960s social standards. In that case, why give her such a standard backstory from the start?

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Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) and Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) in Columbia Pictures’ WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

The bigger problem, however, is the disastrous cast of Kya’s love interests, which are so boringly interchangeable that you might forget their faces even if you stare straight at them. It doesn’t help that both actors look way too old for the high school and college aged characters they’re set to play. So what should be a passionate, whirlwind tale of a mysterious young love has all the plasticity of Barbie dolls dressed in 1960s button-downs. One longs for the raw feel that Ryan Gosling brings to The Notebook to spice up this Moor-Standard mood melodrama with a bit of real heat.

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See “Where the Crawdads Sing” for: An Unexpected Love of Science

The only place where the film feels truly original is in the way Kya channels her passion for the outdoors through the prism of science. Owens was a zoologist and non-fiction writer before she switched gears with Crawdads, and she brings a similar passion to her protagonist. Once Kya learns to read, she dives straight into the canon of scholarly literature that helps her put into context the natural world she loves so much. And the juxtaposition of her unassuming, practical personality and her ability to convey complicated scientific jargon is the one thing that feels truly unique about her.

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Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) in Columbia Pictures’ WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

Fueled by Kya’s love of the outdoors, “Crawdads” works best as a travelogue of sorts, with director Olivia Newman charting the misty waterways, sunlit forests, and sprawling shorelines of North Carolina (albeit shot in Louisiana). And Edgar-Jones is at her strongest when she’s simply observing nature around her – marveling at the colors of a feather or the details of a seashell. The problem comes when the film has to go back to those pesky one-dimensional human characters that fuel its story.

With its pretty setting and relatively intriguing central mystery, “Where the Crawdads Sing” is enough to be seen as some kind of brilliant Southern fairy tale. However, as a celebration of an unusual life uniquely lived, it sinks more than it floats.

Class: C

“Where the Crawdads Sing” opens in cinemas everywhere on July 15th. Rated PG-13. 125 minutes. Directed by Olivia Newman. Featuring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, Jojo Regina, David Strathairn, Michael Hyatt, Sterling Macer Jr., Garret Dillahunt, Ahna O’Reilly, Jayson Warner Smith.

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Coyote Lake (2019): Riverdale star Camila Mendes and Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza direct this psychological thriller about a mother-daughter duo who run a bed and breakfast near the US-Mexico border. When two uninvited guests arrive, all hell breaks loose – and not just because of the newcomers. It turns out that mother and daughter have a big secret, and it threatens to turn everything upside down. Rated TV-MA. 93 minutes. To you: Sara Seligmann. Also included Charlie Weber, Neil Sandilands, Manny Perez.

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How to Watch Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing hits theaters nationwide on July 15. It cannot be streamed at this time.

About the author: Caroline Siede is a film and television critic in Chicago, where she doesn’t mind the cold anyway. As a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she spent four years analyzing the romantic comedy genre one film at a time in her column “When Romance Met Comedy” for The AV Club. She is also the co-host of the film podcast, role calland shares her opinions on pop culture on Twitter (@carolinesiede).

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