‘Where the crayfish sing’ is a corny and old-fashioned melodrama

Daisy Edgar-Jones in ‘Where the Crayfish Sing’. Michele K Short/Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Classics

As an overrated, bestselling first novel by Delia Owens, the hit book Where the crayfish sing is so popular and mediocre that in the mind-boggling tradition of love story and The Bridges of Madison County. As a movie, it’s a corny, old-fashioned melodrama cut from the same pattern as one of those Southern Gothic soap operas in the backcountry by Erskine Caldwell (remember Claudelle Englishyou all?). Set in North Carolina, but filmed in Louisiana, coming to the screen was as inevitable as Spanish moss on a live oak tree.

Directed by: Olivia Newman
Written by: Lucy Alibar
Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, Michael Hyatt, Sterling Macer, Jr., David Strathairn
Duration: 126 minutes.

In case you’ve avoided this publishing phenomenon and know nothing about it except its record position on the New York Times bestseller list, Where the crayfish sing is the long-winded one saga of an orphaned girl named Kya, abandoned by her sweet, long-suffering mother and brutal, alcoholic father, followed by her four siblings, and left to raise herself in a primitive swamp full of alligators and poisonous snakes, with no education, no money , and no connection to the outside world, including a radio, newspaper, or television. It’s a wonder Kya hasn’t left home either, but that’s just one of the many empty spaces that Lucy Alibar, who edited the novel, doesn’t fill. But against all odds, Kya continues to survive one disastrous hurdle after another by interacting with all the insects, birds and butterflies in Barclay Cove, North Carolina.

After years of hardship, punishment and enough humiliation to make Elsie Dinsmore look like Gloria Vanderbilt, the lonely, isolated girl who has no pair of shoes grows into a lovely woman with beautiful eyes (played by charming British actress Daisy Edgar-Jones ) who loves and collects feathers, shells, and the two handsomest men south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Tate, a blond, blue-eyed boy (Taylor John Smith) who is too patrician, intelligent and gentle to be believable as a shrimp fisherman’s son, befriends her in childhood and grows up to be her lover, who teaches her how to read and write and provide her with a list of publishers (huh?) in the hopes that she will turn her successful nature drawings into a book. When he goes to college, she believes that he will come back and be her faithful, loyal and sincere darling forever. When she doesn’t hear from him for years, her heart breaks and Kya takes it up with Chase (Harris Dickinson), a handsome heel more interested in his own self-preservation and social-climbing marriage to a girl with connections (and shoes) from the right. of the city, breaking Kya’s heart again.

When Chase’s body is found dead in the swamp, there is no shred of evidence to link her to his death, but it is Kya on trial for murder. The vile townspeople who never give this disenfranchised girl a break are like flour sack extras who play the courtroom scenes. To kill a mockingbird. David Strathairn, the only actor in the film I knew from other work, takes pity on poor Kya during the long, slow trial as the Atticus Finch-esque lawyer who vows to save her from conviction. Tate returns and begs for forgiveness. Kya becomes a published author. There are huge gaps in the story that will leave you scratching your head.

The film opens with the murder trial, and Kya’s endless misadventures are cataloged from start to finish in time frames that bounce from one year to the next in a Faulknerian stream of consciousness that hops and bounces in a confusion of style over structure. You won’t know who the real killer is until it’s time for the credits, but if you haven’t figured it out yet, you’re just not paying attention.

The box office success of Where the crayfish sing will depend on how many readers of the book want to see the movie. A renewed interest in author Delia Owens’s much-discussed personal involvement in a true murder mystery that continues to spark curiosity could generate business. But the fact remains that what appears on screen lacks the pace, suspense and humor it needs to keep a general audience alert and riveted. For what it is, I have to admit it’s well served by an engaging, well-rounded and admirably dedicated cast. They rise despite the unsteady direction of Olivia Newman, who makes her debut as a feature film director without much cohesion, but with enough sugar to spin cotton candy.

'Where the crayfish sing' is a corny and old-fashioned melodrama

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