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Turtle diaries

Human connections are tenuous at best in Loggerheads

In Eden, N.C., neighbors welcome new arrivals with apple pies, and women in snappy short sets and sun visors catch up on gossip during their morning race-walk past the tidy lawns and brick ranches of their subdivisions.

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But in the movie scheme of things, small towns generally are not synonymous with the sunny normalcy they advertise. Beneath Eden's homespun facade, there's some real gut-churning going on. While minister Robert (Chris Sarandon) prepares his Mother's Day sermon, his fitfully obedient wife, Elizabeth (Tess Harper), frets over their gay son, Mark (Kip Pardue), who's fled Eden to escape his parents' disapproval.

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Mark plays out his own psychological drama on the sands of Kure Beach, N.C., where he's traveled to protect the loggerhead turtles. The females return to the beach where they were once born to lay their eggs. But Mark's ostensible "protection" is as passive, emotionally muddled and subtext-laden as the "protection" Timothy Treadwell offers the bears in Grizzly Man. More than anything, the animals become a projection of Mark's own anxieties and powerlessness.

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Mark places wooden markers where the turtles have laid their eggs, but what he is really preserving and honoring is the natural urge, experienced by both animal and human, to know where one came from, to return to the origins of life.

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While Mark ponders the symbolic, circular path of the loggerheads in this too neatly triangulated story, the film's third element presents itself in the form of Grace (Bonnie Hunt), a mentally fragile woman who's trying to locate the son she gave up for adoption when she was 17.

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Mothers come in all shapes and species in Loggerheads, their urge to nurture apparently inborn, although culture and religion often interfere with those urges. Elizabeth and Robert's lockstep Christianity proves an especially disastrous yardstick with which to measure real lives.

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Junebug was a lighthearted take on the peculiar cultural climate of the South, but writer/director Tim Kirkman's Loggerheads takes a harder, though not antagonistic look at the regional embrace of fundamentalism.

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Although the parallel between the loggerheads' instinctive knowledge of where they belong and Mark's yearning for his own place in the world is at times heavy handed, Loggerheads is a heartfelt, emotionally pregnant drama that manages to wriggle out from underneath its Sundance-approved, indie-conventional gravity and Kirkman's obvious devotion to low-key ensemble pieces.

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Certain details bear indications of directorial naiveté, like the neat way Elizabeth's repression and homophobia advertise themselves in her objections to a nude statue of David that her earth-mother neighbor places in her front yard, or her fear that the new arrivals on her block are a gay couple. Certain casting decisions also interfere with our suspension of disbelief. Despite a pocket protector and polyester trousers, it is hard to buy Sarandon as a hard-line, small-town Southern minister.

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But Kirkman makes up for his occasionally artificial Southern milieu with the sense of yearning and regret that unites his characters and their muted and internalized agonies. Much of what happens in Loggerheads is below the surface, and the rendition of the profound misunderstandings between parents and children are especially keenly observed. In the classic middle-American tradition, no one communicates and parents do what they think is best for their children, with generally disastrous results.

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felicia.feaster@creativeloafing.com