Starring Daisy Edgar-Jones, David Strathairn, Taylor John Smith, Sterling Macer, Jr., Michael Hyatt, Harris Dickinson, Jojo Regina, Luke David Blumm, Jayson Warner Smith, Garret Dillahunt, Ahna O’Reilly, Eric Ladin
Screenplay by Lucy Alibar
Based on the novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens
Directed by Olivia Newman
Produced by Reese Witherspoon and Lauren Neustadter
Cinematography by Polly Morgan
Edited by Alan Edward Bell
Music by Mychael Danna

By Matt Neufeld

As June crosses the threshold into July, and as half of 2022 slips into history, it’s a pleasure to report that July greets us with the best film released so far in 2022: the evocative, eloquent, insightful and intelligent drama and mystery, “Where the Crawdads Sing”–and if you’re looking for a true quality movie to see in the theaters this summer, this is the movie to see.

Besides easily succeeding in every filmic area–“Where…” Is well-produced, well-written, well-directed and well-acted–the film delivers a powerful collection of strong, emotional and thoughtful lessons, morals and messages about an array of areas. The movie strongly makes important points against domestic violence and abuse; against rape and sexual violence; against the dangers of ignorance in regards to class and economic bias and prejudice; the dangers of ignorance in general; the dangers of formulating and spreading false rumors, urban legends and folk tales that are harmful to those about whom the rumors are falsely spread; the overwhelming powers of love; and the over-arching, essential aspects of individualism, perseverance, grit, courage, strident independence and survival.

If that sounds like a lot or too much, it really isn’t with “Where the Crawdads Sing,” simply because, thank goodness for all of us and for the movie business in general, all of these themes and messages come together smoothly and smartly–just like with any intelligent, well-made movie. However, it’s an unfortunate sign of the difficult times for movies in general that moviegoers have to be reminded about just what it takes to make a truly insightful and perceptive film. Of course, there’s plenty of well-made, smart films released every month, but fewer and fewer of them are getting wide releases and fewer and fewer of them are getting wide releases smack in the middle of the summer movie season. And fewer and fewer truly exceptional films are getting the attention and viewings that they deserve.

So rejoice, celebrate, make plans and just head on out to an actual, real movie theater the weekend of July 15-17, 2022, sit back in the comfortable air-conditioned darkness and thoroughly enjoy the best film released so far this year.

Daisy Edgar-Jones, a 24-year-old, striking, beautiful English actress, delivers a career-establishing, career-defining standout, memorable performance as Kya Clark, a shy, smart, clever and decidedly independent young woman who has literally raised herself from childhood, alone, in her family country home set back deep in the remote, bucolic, tree-covered, water-filled marshes of a backwater region of North Carolina in the 1950s and 1960s. This is the type of role, character, performance and movie that any young actress dreams about, and Edgar-Jones takes full control of her character and performance, portraying this remarkable, beautiful woman–it’s essential to note her beauty because Kya’s natural, down-home but still breathtaking beauty is part of who she is and part of what occurs in the story–with just the right, measured, equal levels of control, confidence, shyness, resilience, ingenuity, sexuality, desire and intelligence. These are the multi-layered aspects of who Kya is, and Edgar-Jones is just so strong in the role, she carries the movie brilliantly from start to finish.

Kya, shockingly, is literally abandoned by her entire family in the atmospheric, evocative marsh environment, with very little money, food or resources. Yet rather than cry, whine or give up, we watch, fascinated, as the exceptionally smart and resourceful Kya intuitively takes advantage of her unique situation and actually ends up doing rather well. She not only survives on her own deep in the marshland, she thrives. This initial, first act of the movie is riveting, and hopeful, and the very story of Kya’s survival and coming-of-age in the marsh could actually have stood alone as a story for the movie by itself. But “Where the Crawdads Sing” has much more to offer–as does the movie’s original source material, the 2018 best-selling novel of the same name by Delia Owens.

As Kya grows up and becomes a beautiful young woman, alas, the complications, darkness, ignorance and stupidity of the outside world soon invades her idyllic life. Men, some good, some bad, come calling. Their intentions are good, their intentions are bad, and, as it happens in life, their intentions can be ugly. People start to whisper, talk, spread rumors, become biased, even become fearful of Kya. Stupid rednecks and city folk who should know better even refer to Kya as the “marsh girl,” as if she were some type of traveling carnival, fair or circus freak sideshow.

Of course, Kya is no such thing, and she is, in fact, that strong-willed, resourceful, smart, individualistic, talented, creative and inventive survivor. She only wants what every other sane person on this crazy planet wants–to be respected, to be understood, to live a peaceful and happy life, to enjoy the wonders of life without conflict, chaos or conflict, and to be loved. These basic things are never too much to ask for in life, naturally, but of course the world is full of ignorant, stupid people who only seem to complicate life and makes things more difficult than they have to be or should be. Kya encounters all of this, but what makes it all so interesting in the movie is her context–the woman shunned by society, fighting back against that moronic ignorance, stupidity, bias and idiocy, overcoming all of that, and winning.

This is always a fascinating conflict, and it’s nothing new in storytelling, of course. The classic tale of an outsider, or, really, people or things or creatures only viewed as an outsider by ignorant people, yet who are actually in a very real way just like everyone else, permeates every area of drama in every genre. The theme could apply to everyone, really–who on earth hasn’t felt, at some time in their life, like an outsider, or as just plain misunderstood? We’ve all been there, and that’s what makes Kya’s story so relatable, understandable and sympathetic.

So to watch Kya stand up for herself, overcome the ignorance and rumors, carve out a successful career niche for herself, find that love and respect–well, it’s just positive, upbeat, uplifting and eminently inspirational. And that inspiration is one of the many factors that lifts up “Where…” and makes the movie so enjoyable.

Of course, there is a strong, assured, measured, smart and, in only the best way, quite normal–meaning, not over-reaching, not over-done and intelligently down-to-earth–direction from director Olivia Newman; an equally measured, down-to-earth and smart screenplay from Lucy Alibar; beautiful, pastoral cinematography from Polly Morgan that takes full advantage of the beautiful marshland, backwoods, country and small-town settings; wonderfully traditional editing by Alan Edward Bell; and a beautiful musical score by Mychael Danna all contribute to the overall excellence of this film. Was the word “beautiful” just used several times? Yes, because that’s just a good word to describe “Where..”–it’s a beautiful film.

Although Daisy Edgar-Jones carries the movie through her powerful performance, she’s aided by a stellar cast. David Strathairn, who is too often cast in slimy, sleazy, unlikeable roles, even though he plays them well, shines here as a likeable, easygoing country lawyer, Tom Milton, who befriends Kya as a child and later befriends her when Kya is a young woman. Strathairn is so likeable in the movie, and this performance should be a wake-up call to directors and casting agents to please cast him him in more likeable, relatable, down-to-earth roles.

Also standing out in the movie are Sterling Macer, Jr., and Michael Hyatt as a local couple, Jumpin’ and Mabel, respectively, who also befriend Kya. Just like with Milton, the characters of Jumpin’ and Mabel are also quite caring and likeable. The couple, who run a quaint general store in the town closest to the marsh where Kya lives, are so kind, caring, understanding and even generous to Kya through the years, it’s just heartwarming. And Macer and Hyatt imbue their performances with such heart and caring, it’s just, again, uplifting.

Taylor John Smith and Harris Dickinson, as two young men, Tate and Chase, respectively, who are attracted to Kya, albeit in quite different ways, also deliver strong performances. Additionally, two talented young actors, Jojo Regina and Luke David Blumm, who play the younger, kid-aged versions of Kya and her friend Tate, respectively, show exceptional skill and insightfulness beyond their years.

A plot point that will not be revealed here is an integral aspect of the story, plot and movie–although, interestingly, it’s worth wondering if this respective over-riding aspect of the plot could have been handled in another way or even not introduced at all. Yes, yes, many will argue that this plot point is what carries the movie and provides the very basis and foundation for the entire book, movie, story and plot. Of course. But there is just a hint of wonder, again, if, perhaps, well, the story could have worked better or even more effectively without this aspect of the plot. Nevertheless, the inclusion of this part of the story does not hinder, hurt or harm “Where the Crawdads Sing.”

Actually, there’s nothing major that hinders, hurts or harms this movie. It’s just so welcome to see such an intelligent drama and mystery in the theaters. The last movie in 2022 to evoke such praise on so many levels just happened to be the quite similar, and also quite intelligent and entertaining, “Death on the Nile” from Kenneth Branagh.

Now, if we can only get the studio and production suits to focus, breathe, get their brains working consistently on an intelligent level, and release more movies as intelligent, evocative as “Where the Crawdads Sing,” there could start to be some hope for movies in general.

The title of “Where the Crawdads Sing” comes from advice given by Kya’s mom to Kya and from Tate to Kya. Ma Clark and Tate suggest that it’s always good, healthy and productive for Kya, and, really, for all people everywhere, to every now and then just head on out deep into the marsh, deep into the country, away from people and the attendant darkness of so many people, and just completely lose yourself deep in nature, deep in the wilderness of the world and the wilderness of life, to escape into the deep marshlands of the world and of your mind, to head on out to where the crawdads sing.

This mid-July, 2022, summer weekend, it’s highly recommended that all of us take the time, movie-wise, movie-theater-wise and real-life-wise, to take that journey, figuratively and literally, and head on out to the wilderness and lose yourself, indulge yourself, and enjoy yourself, out there, way out there, among nature, among wildlife, among the wonder, among the magic, where the crawdads sing.