Film reviews: Where The Crawdads Sing, Robust, Kurt Vonnegut

Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) in Columbia Pictures' WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) in Columbia Pictures' WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING. - Credit: Michele K Short

Where The Crawdads Sing (15)

*

You should never judge a film by its title but when the title is as godawful as Where The Crawdads Sing, it’s hard to avoid it.

It sounds like a line used by a drag act Katharine Hepburn in a waspish parody of Tennessee Williams. This terrible, terrible title though belongs to a best selling, much loved novel, and its 12 million copies sold worldwide demands that a film be made.

The name does at least send us off to the humid marshes and bayous of America's deep south. In her first Hollywood leading role, Islington-born Edgar-Jones (Normal People) plays a character known to the locals as Swamp girl.

As the film starts, Kya is arrested for the murder of the town’s former quarterback - which leads us to one of the most half hearted courtroom dramas ever put on film. The trial scenes are really just a framing device for a series of flashbacks to her life story. As, one by one, her family abandon her to get away from their violent father, (Dillahunt) Kya grows up alone in the swamp, becomes a self taught naturalist and illustrator, before getting romantically involved with a pair of interchangeable pretty boys Chase (Dickinson) and Tate (Smith.)

The audience’s main problem is not knowing what we're supposed to be interested in. With her life in the balance you’d assume the trial, but the film can’t bear to spend a minute more than it has to in that courthouse. Are we to be inspired by her independence and affinity with nature? Or gripped by the heated passion of her Chasentate romantic dilemma? The film employs the rudiments of Southern gothic but in a chaste manner. You presume the central character would be wild and feral to some degree, a passionate Catherine luring these hunky Heathcliffes and Edgars out into the swamp. But she seems more timid than feisty. Demonstrations of passion are restricted to her bare shoulders from which her shirt will slide when things get heated.

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I suppose it says something for this soppy and insipid film that although it is constructed almost entirely of cliches (see Strathairn’s kindly Atticus Finch lawyer) the bizarre way it has been put together means that a predictable story becomes utterly mysterious.

Directed Olivia Newman. Starring Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, Garrett Dillahunt, Sterling Macer Jr and David Strathairn. In cinemas. Running time: 126 mins.

Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) in Columbia Pictures' WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) in Columbia Pictures' WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING. - Credit: Michele K Short

Robust (15)

***

My heart soars whenever I see legendary French actor Gerard Depardieu on screen: it always fills me with joy to see someone bigger and piggier than myself. The phrase letting yourself go suggests a casual disregard, but he is throwing himself away.

In Robust, he is basically playing himself, a temperamental, difficult actor, who is constantly grazing, usually with a drinkie to wash it down and as a result lives a life of loneliness, pain and fear. It’s a study in corporeal punishment.

Opposite him is Aissa (Lukumuena), his new bodyguard. She is a hulking figure who enjoys wrestling, but seems a little lost within her physically imposing frame. Initially, Meyer's debut feature hints at being a provocative exploration of two people trying to understand the alarming disjunct between their exterior and interior.

Soon though it settles down into a much more conventional piece about a pair of mismatched outsiders forming an unlikely friendship. It's safe but still very satisfying. Lukemuena’s is arguably the more compelling of the two lead performances, but in the very last moment Depardieu concludes the film with a fantastic, scene-stealing moment.

Directed by Constance Meyer. Starring Gerard Depardieu, Deborah Lukumuena, Lucas Mortier, Megan Northam, Florence Janas and Steve Tientcheu. In French with subtitles. Running time: 94 mins.

Deborah Lukumuena and Gerard Depardieu in Robust

Deborah Lukumuena and Gerard Depardieu in Robust - Credit: Athena Films/First Hand Films

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

***

The opening line of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (which comes at the start of chapter 2: it’s that kind of book) tells us, “Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.”

Big deal: in time we all come unstuck. When it came out in 1969, Vonnegut’s comic, time travelling, science fiction account of the firebombing of Dresden chimed with the 'Nam-era anti-war zeitgeist and propelled him into the frontline of American authors for a decade or two, before drifting down a few levels.

And this biodoc has similarly come unstuck, arriving a couple of decades too late. It's as much about how it took four decades to make as it is about the author. Instead of finishing it, Robert B Weide produced and directed Curb Your Enthusiasm and turned the Vonnegut project into a lasting friendship.

Like all Vonnegut fans, he got into him as a teenager  - Vonnegut is surely the greatest children's/YA author ever. His books are short, simple, funny, serious, unconventional, provocative, incredibly easy to read, but 150 pages later you have leapfrogged into the realms of proper literature. The best Vonnegut is like The Great American Novel, written by Dr Zeuss.

Directed by Robert B. Weide and Don Argott. Featuring Kurt Vonnegut, Robert B. Weide, David L. Ulin, Edie Vonnegut and Mark Vonnegut. Running time: 127 mins.

KURT VONNEGUT: UNSTUCK IN TIME STILL 1

Robert Weide and Kurt Vonnegut in Robert Weide’s ‘KURT VONNEGUT: UNSTUCK IN TIME. - Credit: Courtesy of B Plus Prods / C. Minnick. An IFC Films Release.