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Loggerheads

Writer-director Tim Kirkman's first fiction feature is a respectably crafted, earnest ensemble drama about various communities and chronologies in 2000 North Carolina. Still, its telepic feel and focus on older female characters played by tube vets mark "Loggerheads" as a broadcast natural that won't excite much interest theatrically.

Writer-director Tim Kirkman’s first fiction feature (following well-received 1998 docu “Dear Jesse” and 2000 performance doc “The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me”) is a respectably crafted, earnest ensemble drama about various communities and chronologies in 2000 North Carolina. Supposedly based on a true story, tale involving adoption, conservative Christianity, homosexuality and AIDS feels more like a conventional exercise in case-pleading, slightly soapy storytelling. General aura of restraint holds pic back — sometimes just by a hair — from maudlin contrivance. Still, its telepic feel and focus on older female characters played by tube vets mark “Loggerheads” as a broadcast natural that won’t excite much interest theatrically.

With overheard radio broadcasts (designating the time period as late in President Clinton’s second term or early in George W. Bush’s first) often the only signal the script is jumping around in time, it takes a while to sort out just what is going on when here. What emerges is straightforward enough to make the stab at fancy structuring seem gratuitous as well as confusing.

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Tale unfolds in three separate North Carolina locales over a one-year period. In Asheville, middle-aged Grace (Bonnie Hunt) is back in her briskly managerial mother’s (Michael Learned) house after some rough times that included a suicide attempt. Grace is determined to track down the child she gave birth to at 17 and gave up for adoption at mom’s insistence.

Meanwhile, suburban Eden is home to chirpy busybody Elizabeth (Tess Harper), who feigns normalcy while both she and minister husband Robert (Chris Sarandon) strain to ignore the truth behind their empty nest: Faced with hellfire-and-brimstone disapproval when discovered kissing a boy, their then-teen son ran away some years back and hasn’t been heard from since. Earth-motherly neighbor Rachel (Robin Weigert), however, reveals she knows his whereabouts when circumstances allow one last chance at reconciliation.

Elsewhere, waifish twentysomething Mark (Kip Pardue) touches down in the coastal town of Kure Beach, for no reason beyond a fascination with the loggerhead turtles that can be seen making their way from shore to sea at night. Local police don’t tolerate drifters, so hunky gay motel owner George (Michael Kelly) gives him a free room. Mark reveals his runaway history and HIV-positive status, while George nurses past wounds of his own.

The ways in which these strands interconnect are meant to be more surprising than they are. But Kirkman sketches his characters and scenes with discreet sympathy, for the most apart avoiding pat realization of borderline-stereotypical conflicts (the minister whose sermons reveal his own domestic hypocrisy, etc.).

“Loggerheads” is quietly involving, albeit uneven. The best scenes are those between two younger male figures, though each is a tad underdeveloped. Pic’s veteran actresses, while good, are too often kept on the tremulous histrionic threshold of smiling-through-tears, or just crying outright.

Mark’s refusal to deal with his HIV status makes superficial sense as an expression of self-worth (or rather its lack), but one can’t help thinking that, at this late date having a young, generally healthy character die of AIDS is less a credible device than simply a lazy way to provide tragic plot closure.

Lensing and other design contribs are adequate but nondescript. Frequent soundtrack use of sensitive acoustic plaints by contempo singer-songwriters Patty Griffin and Mark Geary tends to underline pic’s more bathetic tendencies.

Loggerheads

  • Production: An Independent Drum Prods. presentation in association with db 120 Films. Produced by Gill Holland. Executive producers, Lillian LaSalle, Stephan Hays. Co-producers, Les Franck, Cindy Tolan, Zeke Zelker. Directed and written by Tim Kirkman.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Oliver Bokelberg; editor, Caitlin Dixon; music, Mark Geary; music supervisor, Charlie Feldman; production designer, Jim "Jungle" Shaugnessy; art director, Rick Mobbs; costume designer, Susan Oliver; casting, Cindy Tolan. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 21, 2005. Running time: 93 MIN.
  • With: Grace - Bonnie Hunt Mark - Kip Pardue Elizabeth - Tess Harper Robert - Chris Sarandon Sheridan - Michael Learned George - Michael Kelly Rachel - Robin Weigert
  • Music By: