Film reviews: Where the Crawdads Sing | Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time | She Will

British actress Daisy Edgar-Jones is hopelessly miscast in Olivia Newman’s big screen adaptation of Where the Crawdads Sing, writes Alistair Harkness

Daisy Edgar-Jones in Where the Crawdads Sing PIC: 3000 Pictures
Daisy Edgar-Jones in Where the Crawdads Sing PIC: 3000 Pictures

Where the Crawdads Sing (15) **

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time (15) ****

She Will (15) **

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    Adapted from Delia Owens’ 12 million-selling blockbuster novel, Where the Crawdads Sing makes for a pretty disappointing movie. The discovery of a dead body in the swampy marshlands of late 1960s North Carolina hints at a sweaty murder mystery, but the only grit on display in this insipid empowerment fantasy is the type served up for breakfast in the American South. British actress Daisy Edgar-Jones (one of the breakout stars of TV’s Normal People) is hopelessly miscast as the story’s heroine, Kya Clarke, a supposedly once-feral girl turned virtuous paragon of self-reliance whose outsider status – she’s known to the locals as “Marsh Girl” – makes her the prime suspect in the murder of a handsome young man she was once involved with.

    Framed initially as a courtroom drama, the majority of the film takes place in languorous, melodramatic flashbacks, usually accompanied by treacly, metaphor-heavy narration. First we’re filled in on Kya’s destitute childhood, where she’s left to the mercy of a violent father (Garret Dillahunt) after her mother, then her siblings, abandon their swampland shack at the first chance they get (Kya is played in these scenes by Jojo Regina). Then the film flashes forward a few years to show her as an older-teen and a twenty-something woman (both played by Edgar-Jones) who comes-of-age as a self-educated naturalist with a talent for drawing John James Audubon-esque illustrations of local bird and insect life. But Kya’s ability to thrive in the marshlands with perfect teeth, snow-white skin, luscious dark hair and long billowy dresses also attracts the attentions of two young men (earnest Taylor John Smith and duplicitous Harris Dickinson) who privately profess their love for her but can’t quite bring themselves to do so in public.

    So far, so Nicholas Sparks and director Olivia Newman certainly leans into the romance elements with corny love scenes, honeydew cinematography and a new Taylor Swift song on the soundtrack. But the film also has to soldier on with its 1969-set court case and, sadly, the evidence against Kya is so spuriously and listlessly presented it robs the movie of any suspense. It's clear from the off what verdict the jury will eventually return, even as the flashbacks signpost evidence to the contrary in order to set-up its blindingly obvious, yet still punishingly drawn-out, twist ending. Still, fans of the book can revel in the film’s tourist brochure shots of the landscape and its ripe evocation of that turbulent period in the history of the American South when intolerance of beautiful, willowy outsiders was apparently the most shameful crime of all.

    The late, great American novelist and satirist Kurt Vonnegut gets an appropriately messy, postmodern documentary about his life in Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time. Directed by Bob Weide – who once adapted Vonnegut’s 1962 novel Mother Night into a film with Nick Nolte and, latterly, has found huge success directing Curb Your Enthusiasm – the documentary is something a life-long passion project, consuming much of Weide's professional career. Begun 40 years ago as a straightforward author doc about one of his heroes, he simply kept filming, growing closer and closer to his subject, who in turn seemed to take Weide under his wing as his personal archivist and, eventually, as his friend, even writing him into his final novel Timequake, a semi-autobiographical meta-novel about the difficulty of writing his final novel Timequake.

    Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time PIC: Courtesy of B Plus Prods./C. Min

    The proposed documentary, meanwhile, remained stubbornly unfinished, even as the years following Vonnegut’s death in 2007 rolled on. As Vonnegut might have put it, so it goes. But as Weide starts confronting the fact that he perhaps doesn't want to close the book on this chapter of his life, he and his co-director Don Argott take creative inspiration from Vonnegut’s breakthrough novel, the antiwar classic Slaughterhouse-Five, using its playful time-travelling conceit as a way of deconstructing the documentary format to better illuminate Vonnegut’s work. They succeed too, partly because Vonnegut is such good company, but also because the film doesn’t stint on exploring the personal failings that Vonnegut’s late-blooming celebrity status as a hero of the counter-culture exacerbated. There are some fascinating insights from his grown-up children here, and the wealth of documentary and archival footage serves as a reminder of what a clear-thinking, sharp-witted social commentator he was. But Weide’s personal journey with Vonnegut also provides a valuable and engrossing running commentary on the complex power of art and literature to shape and enrich the lives of all those it touches.

    Revolving around an ageing actress (Alice Krige) who uses witchcraft to exact belated revenge on the filmmaker (Malcolm McDowell) who abused her as a young ingenue, She Will could have been a wild feminist horror freak-out had its execution not been so laughably bad. Dario Argento’s presence as an executive producer hints at the artfully lurid visual style video artist-turned-filmmaker Charlotte Colbert is going for, but the performances (among them a caked-in-prosthetics Rupert Everett), the dramatically inert script and the use of a generic Scottish setting as an off-the-peg signifier of folkloric dread all leave a lot to be desired. “This is the Highlands”, a local intones ominously at one point. “Go wandering in the mountains alone at your own risk!”

    All films in cinemas from 22 July

    She Will