The Marsh Girl Lives in my Heart and The Big Screen – Movie Review
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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was released as a book on August 14, 2018, and the movie version was released not long after, on July 15, 2022. The movie trailers made a lot of big promises, we would finally see Kya on the big screen, not just in our own heads. Yet Where the Crawdads Sing is a perfect example of why books don’t always translate well into film.
Where The Crawdads Sing is a story told in dual timelines, set in Barkley Cove, and follows the life of a young girl named Kya. We meet Kya as a child, dealing with the repercussions of an abusive father and family members that leave her one by one. Then we read about Kya turning into a young woman, and watch her go through life’s trials and tribulations.
We see Kya use the nature and animals that surround her in the marsh as a guiding post for her life. Without a ma, pa, or older siblings to help guide her, Kya is forced to make her own chosen family. As Kya continues to grow up, she discovers love with two local boys. Tate Walker and Chase Andrews. Some might say it is at this point when a love triangle develops, but truthfully both of these intimate relationships are lessons Kya needs to learn.
Tate is not as charming but looks out for Kya. He helps her learn how to read and is a bit of a “mentor of life” to Kya. Chase is much more charming, but also much more conniving. He calls Kya “the marsh girl” behind her back. Often speaking about her as though she is his possession and less so his equal or the woman he claims to love.
The story takes a turn when Chase Andrews is found murdered. Residents of Barkley Cove immediately place the blame on Kya and a trial ensues. The trial is about much more than Chase’s murder. This trial also reveals a town that turned its back on a young girl who needed support. A town that chose to ostracize a child for the mistakes and faults of her family.
Without any spoilers, the movie follows closely to the plot of the book. This is probably the first pain point for me.
Reese’s Book Club Pick
Something I never managed to understand was how movies that were based on books, could turn out so disappointing? Was it the actors? Directors? Writers? Budgets?
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens first landed itself in Reese Witherspoon’s monthly book club. This was partially how I found out about the book when I read it back in January of 2020. As a fan of Reese Witherspoon, I trust her judgment. Especially because I really enjoyed the adaptation of the book Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.
So when Reese Witherspoon and director Olivia Newman tackled Where the Crawdads Sing, I was nervous. This book was one I really enjoyed, despite its smaller, lackluster parts. I did not want to see another adaptation of a book I loved to become a film that I despised.
Olivia Newman has worked on a small handful of movies in the early 2010s and most notably wrote and directed First Match in 2018. She will also be working with Reese Witherspoon to produce the upcoming miniseries The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave.
Having not seen anything else Olivia Newman has directed, it is unfair to judge her as a director.
Audiobook length vs. Movie length
That being said, I think the major problem with the film adaptation is the time allotted. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a twelve-hour-long audiobook. Whereas the movie had to squeeze in as much as it could, within two hours. A major pain point for this movie was the pacing and I’d like to think this is the reason why.
Olivia Newman and Reese Witherspoon wanted to stick close to the book when it came to the movie. I think that’s admirable, considering some directors take a “creative leap” with some content and make it unrecognizable. Still, veering away from the book at some points in the movie might have helped with pacing being less awkward.
Thoughts on the Movie
I will say, that I think the movie could have been better. While I understand the challenges presented with turning a book into a film. Especially when the directors and writers want to stay as close to the book as possible.
Daisy Edgar-Jones is a really solid choice for Kya. She shares a lot of features with Kya and the casting for the other characters felt spot on too. The scenes of the marshland in the movies were stunning as well. A lot of what I had envisioned in my head, truly came to life on the big screen.
Where this movie faltered for me, was the pacing. It felt rushed. Kya’s story felt like one that was on a time limit. Rather than scenes being left out, scenes were rushed to keep the plot moving. This felt incredibly disingenuous to the book. Especially when many of the themes of Kya’s story are heavy and dark and deserve the time it takes to open a proper discussion about them.
If you read the book and haven’t watched the movie or vice versa, I recommend you do! But if you haven’t done either, definitely do! There is a lot of controversy around Delia Owens and some of it is more interesting than Where The Crawdads Sing, but this isn’t about Delia Owen’s scandal. (If you’d like to read about it, The Atlantic has a great article about what is going on.)
While I have my gripes with both the book and the movie, I did enjoy both. I recommend both, though I recommend the movie with a grain of salt.