The one thing to know about dreams is that they are not real. So when things start looking a bit too beautiful, too surreal, too dreamy, the human mind naturally distances it from reality. Now I am all for watching stunning visuals, pretty frocks, gorgeous film stars on screen but it comes at the cost of believability. And sorry, but I don’t buy Daisy Edgar-Jones, in all her cute outfits, perfect hair, and idyllic home, trying to sell me abject poverty, abandonment, trauma and childhood abuse. (Also read: Beast movie review: Idris Elba fights a lion and common sense in Hollywood’s latest survival drama)
Shot at perhaps the most beautiful marshland you can ever imagine, Where The Crawdads Sing is an adaptation of Delia Owen’s bestseller book and is set in North Carolina of the 1950s and 60s. It presents a childhood-to-death story of a woman, Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones), who was abandoned by her abused mother, abusive father and scared siblings at a very young age. She had to raise herself by selling fresh mussels from the swamp she calls home. She doesn’t have the skirts, shoes or the strength to battle the bullies at her school, which means she also grows up illiterate. However, she does have a talent for painting pretty pictures of everything and anything she finds in that marsh.
The scenes are flushed with shades of marshy greens, blue water, white sand and the colourful creatures she loves to draw. Almost each scene is picture-perfect, including the shades of her dresses, too pretty to have been found in a church’s donation pile. The house she lives in, all on her own, without a grain of food or even electricity, looks like any cottagecore enthusiast’s dream. Amid all these pretty scenes, it is easy to forget that the girl hasn’t eaten in days and is surviving on manual labour each day. It’s easy to forget that this is a story about isolation and abandonment and it should not be making you jealous of the slow life she’s got going for herself.
Of course, then there is the murder plot that actually kickstarts the story. Running parallel to Kya’s life story flashbacks to the 50s, is also a trial for her boyfriend’s (Harris Dickinson) murder in 1969. The uncanny similarity to Delia Owens own life is also quite intriguing (Conservationist Delia is also wanted for questioning in Zambia for a man’s murder). She is prime suspect in the case and is helped by the local lawyer, one of the only three people in the entire town who are nice to her. In true Veer Pratap Singh style, she recites her biography to the Rani Mukerji-adjacent lawyer, recalling her trysts will all the toxic men who ruined her life, beginning right from her father.
Women get slapped, punched, beaten black and blue at multiple junctures of her story. Kya gets hopeful and loses all hope, sometimes all at once and sometimes over months and years. Through it all, Daisy makes sure not to put a single step wrong. She is able to sell the nature-loving reclusive artist quite convincingly but it’s the supporting cast that doesn’t seem to be on the same page. Right from the oldies animatedly gossiping about the ‘marsh-girl’ at a bar or the boyfriends who are either too sweet or too cruel without softening the transition, the supporting cast didn’t get the memo to tone it down.
While the trial will bring back weird taste of To Kill A Mockingbird in your mouth, in not a good way, the overall film should have been more The Devil All The Time than a chunky dose of The Notebook. A few might also not appreciate how the film solves the murder mystery at the end but the lack of visual retelling kind of worked for me. No one goes all Hercule Poirot, narrating the killer’s methodology with a dimly-lit flashback sequence. The tone of the reveal suited the rest of the film but your reaction will depend on whether it was a moody piece for you before it was a whodunnit.
Overall, confused little Where the Crawdads Sing needed to go back to the moodboard a couple times before the final product was sanctioned. You can be Gehraiyaan, The Notebook, To Kill A Mockingbird or The Devil All The Time, but ideally, not all of the above, all at once.