When one thinks about summer films, the mind usually imagines superhero blockbusters and animated fare. But, sometimes, a film sneaks through that offers solid counterprogramming for those disinterested in revisiting the worlds of rampaging dinosaurs or villainous minions.
This summer, that film is Where the Crawdads Sing.
Based on the best-selling book, Where the Crawdads Sing tells the story of Catherine ‘Kya’ Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a resourceful young woman who lives alone in the North Carolina marsh. When her boyfriend is mysteriously killed, Kya quickly becomes the prime suspect. While the townspeople quickly band against the ‘Marsh Girl’, local lawyer Tom Milton (David Strathairn) believes in the young woman’s innocenct and offers to represent her. As Kya unravels her complex story of growing up in an abusive home during a turbulent era, Tom works tirelessly to piece together the death of her former beau in order to save her from the death penalty.
Directed by Olivia Newman and produced by Reese Witherspoon, Where the Crawdads Sing is a brutal but beautiful story of one young woman’s journey to freedom. Beginning in the early 1950s and told mostly in flashback, Crawdads highlights the darkest parts of Kya’s journey. From her abusive childhood to her toxic relationships, Kya has struggled her entire life to trust anyone, especially men. Drowning in a sea of toxic masculinity, Kya has mostly seen the worst of men who have taken advantage of her. This has led to her inability to trust others, leaving her alone in a reclusive life in the marsh. While it’s often difficult to watch, Crawdads is strongly written and well-executed, creating a compelling character drama that’s wrapped in murder and intrigue
While Crawdads benefits from some solid performances, easily the star of the film is Edgar-Jones. As the emotionally-bruised Kya, Edgar-Jones portrays her character with a blend of shyness and inner strength. In essence, there is a gentleness about her character but also an inner fury. At the same time, Strathairn brings a sensitivity and stability to the film which carries it as the courtroom drama begins to take over. There’s simply a likeability about Strathairn that makes him instantly trustworthy. Paired with Edgar-Jones’ quiet rage, his gentleness and confidence helps balance out their pairing, allowing for some genuine chemistry between them.
At its heart, Crawdads is very much a film about finding one’s inner strength in the face of oppression. Known primarily as the ‘Marsh Girl’, Kya lives a life of seclusion. Although she yearns for safe community, the scorn of the townsfolk forces her to hide away in the solitude of her small cabin. At every turn, she feels the pressure of labels from townsfolk who are unwilling to get to know her. As such, even though she lives only a few miles away from them, Kya is viewed as an outsider. Because her life differs so drastically from theirs, they refuse to accept her and rumours begin to swirl about her. (Incidentally, Crawdads also manages to compare Kya’s situation with Jumpin’ and Mable, the African-American couple who have taken her under her wing. Set during a time of racial segregation, they too are viewed as outsiders from the white community that surrounds them.)
However, while others may view her as weak or insignificant, Kya maintains an inner strength. Though trapped in a white, male-dominated culture, she continues to fight against the powers that be. Men insist that they will take care of her yet she refuses. They are oppressive and abusive, but she has a strength that endures.
For this reason, there’s a beauty about the film. Kya‘s journey may be filled with pain yet it is also one of power. We empathize with her suffering but we also believe that she is resilient enough to fight back when necessary.
She has a heart of love but also of fire.
As a result, Where the Crawdads Sing has its own quest for justice. From Kya’s battle for freedom to Jumpin’ and Mable’s courage under oppression, Newman tells a compelling story about what it means to fight back when the world is firmly against you. Anchored by strong performances, the film hears the voice of the oppressed and invites them to tell their story of pain and suffering.
Because, like the Crawdads that sing from the depths of the marsh, they too must be heard.
Where the Crawdads Sing is available in theatres on Friday, July 15th, 2022.