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Not the most cheery way to spend a Saturday night, Loggerheads is still a gentle, weepy tale that condemns discrimination and laments adoption's lingering pain, while capturing the alienation of families torn apart.


Blonde and boyish, drifter Mark (Kip Pardue) washes up onto North Carolina's beaches mysteriously, talking about a quest for loggerhead sea turtles. Mark befriends a local hotel manager, George (Michael Kelly), who's gay. George invites Mark to stay for free. They start a romantic relationship, despite Mark revealing he's HIV-positive. Middle-aged Grace (Bonnie Hunt), a little crazy, pines to meet the son she gave to adoption years ago. A third story brings the other two together: a gay-hating minister (Chris Sarandon) and his homebound wife (Tess Harper) disown their gay son, who ran away from home as a teenager. Loggerheads--though not brilliant--is three quality stories becoming one.


Hunt disappears into her kooky dramatic role surprisingly well. She's usually the soft-faced lead in warm, fuzzy comedies like Cheaper by the Dozen but strongly plays against type here. Harper, relegated to indies and TV movies for the past decade, is like a forgotten revelation. She conjures buried memories of her '80s roles, like Tender Mercies or Crimes of the Heart. Pardue and Kelly are a formidable duo as two young men sharing an affair, cautious yet intimate. They don't reveal too much to the audience too early. As a fresh-faced transient, Pardue is believable as someone we don't trust entirely, and as a gay character, he doesn't conform to the caricature stereotypes. Kelly, previously seen in 2004's Dawn of the Dead, is serviceable in his conflicted role. Chris Sarandon is perfectly detestable as the rigid minister.


Critics say Loggerheads lapses into misshapen periods of melodrama, leaving the audience plenty of time to lose focus. Earnest, lame folk music induces eye rolls. I wouldn't disagree--but the film's pacing is its heart and spirit. Director/writer Tim Kirkman has coaxed above-average performances from all his leads. The slow-moving backdrop of North Carolina lends the perfect tone of social-conservative repression, like a less comedic, bleak version of Desperate Housewives. Both TV's Desperate and Loggerheads, coincidentally, were honored at this year's L.A. Outfest.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.