Beginning in 1969, the narrative flashes back to gradually unspool the story of Kya (Edgar-Jones), who is abandoned by her family at a young age and left alone with her violently abusive father (Garret Dillahunt). After an uncomfortable stretch learning to coexist, he too vanishes, forcing the child to fend for herself.
Growing upon the outskirts of her small North Carolina town, she’s known as the “Marsh Girl,” and treated kindly by only a precious few, including the local store owners (Michael Hyatt, Sterling Macer Jr.), while being shunned and mocked by others.
Still, Edgar-Jones brings an old-fashioned movie-star appeal to Kya’s plight and her understandable leeriness in terms of trusting those around her. When she says, “People don’t stay,” she has the receipts and emotional scars to back that up.
Newman’s direction maintains the mystery through the gasps and sneers from the gallery during the trial sequences, leading to the eventual determination of Kya’s fate. It’s a satisfying conclusion that doesn’t overplay its hand.
The net effect doesn’t qualify as a showstopper, and frankly even with the book’s popularity, at this point launching such a film theatrically feels like a considerable leap of faith. Then again, that dynamic offers a reason to root for “Where the Crawdads Sing,” a smallish movie that hits just enough of the right notes.
“Where the Crawdads Sing” premieres in US theaters on July 15. It’s rated PG-13.