Crawdads sing off key

Author Delia Owens came up with a great sounding phrase for her book turned movie: Where the Crawdads Sing. I immediately imagined a shimmery bank of water reflecting a full moon and stars as a cute little lineup of crayfish opened their mouths in unison—and suddenly my vision puffed away with a follow-up thought. Do crawdads really sing? Pulling that all-knowing, insta-answer box from my pocket, I asked Google and received a prompt response. “Well,” read my phone, “sort of.”

This relates to my feeling about the book and movie—do they ring true, and do I like them? Well, sort of. A mystery format drew me in as police find a body. Murder? They think so and a trial quickly gets underway in a rural North Carolina fishing community whose residents include the mysterious and isolated woman known as “Marsh Girl.” Shunned by locals, she seems a perfect scapegoat and easy way to stamp “case closed” on the file.

Along with mystery, the story celebrates nature and a strong-willed woman who knows how to appreciate it. Such empowerment should make crawdads sing. But their melody gets muffled by elements lifted from other songs of the south, like romances straight out of Nicholas Sparks or a good-hearted lawyer dressed in a white suit. Cliched but absorbing enough, events transfer to screen with sensible direction from Olivia Newman coordinating production logistics.

Newman’s cast lacks headliners aside from David Strathairn, one of those high-powered whisky kinds of actors whose surface hides surprising power. Newcomer Daisy Edgar-Jones holds her own, though rather than dialogue, much of her screen presence comes from narration and posing in pretty shots filmed in the captivating blend of water, plants, and sky found on location in Louisiana—which steps in for the book’s North Carolina setting. Easy to watch, the movie hums along without bursting into any rapturous chorus.

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