by Rob DiCristino
It’s always a special thrill when the year’s biggest novel gets adapted into a film. It’s wholesome, isn’t it? Old fashioned. Pre-internet, at least. I imagine production assistants pouring over galleys in search of the next big trend. I imagine development executives searching the Bestseller lists for their own potential Jaws, Exorcist, or Godfather. I imagine this all happening in the ‘70s, for some reason. And sure, our biggest summer blockbusters are based on comic books, but this isn’t the same thing. This is more about the fun of being ahead of the curve. Special badges of honor are awarded — usually by ourselves — to those of us who read the book before the movie is released, whose prized, dog-eared copies lack the “Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture” sticker or, god forbid, the movie’s key art on the cover. Any idea how many dates I lost by saying, “Eh, the book is a lot better”? A lot! But I digress. The point is this: As our popular monoculture continues to splinter, the fact that we can still all read one book and see it made into a film reminds us that those connections, however small, can still exist.
Olivia Newman’s sophomore feature effort is lush and captivating in its imagery, setting us firmly in the mid-century American South with an atmosphere that is both verdantly romantic and terrifying in its tactility. There’s a bit of Southern Gothic in the down-home charm of Barkley Cove, that mixture of folksiness and decay now common to the genre. Depending on the scene, Kya’s isolation can provoke a sense of freedom or of desperation, as does her prolific talent for sketching and documenting the wildlife around her. Daisy Edgar-Jones, earning more and more of our attention after turns in Fresh and the excellent Normal People, could have easily played Kya as a Manic Pixie Marsh Girl, but her early scenes instead emphasize a history of abuse — both the physical abuse from her alcoholic father (Garret Dillahunt) and the abandonment by her mother (Ahna O’Rilley) and several siblings — to create a hardened, protective shell. It sheds a bit as the kind-hearted Tate teaches her to read — because of course he does — but even the heights of their romance never feel as sacred or impactful to Kya as the solitude and security of the marsh.
Where the Crawdads Sing hits theaters this Friday.