For a movie called Loggerheads, there’s little dramatic tension in this well-acted, well-intentioned and painfully low-key tale of familial and emotional disconnection.
Based on a real incident, the movie centers on a trio of lost souls. Pregnant at seventeen, Grace (Bonnie Hunt) was pressured to give up her son for adoption by her distant mother (Michael Learned). Twenty-plus years later, she is deeply lonely and pining to know what became of the son she never knew. Elizabeth (Tess Harper) also has her issues. Married to a gay-unfriendly minister (Chris Sarandon), she becomes unduly preoccupied when the little boy next door appears to have two daddies, even though she doesn’t seem to be especially homophobic.
Meanwhile, Michael (Kip Pardue) is rootless, homeless, a drifter, loves to save endangered turtles, and is very good looking. When he drifts (as drifters are wont) into the seaside town of Cure (pronounced “Cur-ay”), the immediate question to gay motel owner George is: “is he, or isn’t he?” The good news for George: he is. The bad news: Michael is an HIV-positive-homeless-very-good-looking-drifter-who-likes-to-save-endangered-turtles. The worse news: he’s not particularly interested in seeking the medical treatment that would likely extend his life.
Now, the above information is parceled out in miniscule fragments, and the actual conflict at the heart of the story doesn’t become apparent until the film is nearly over. This is not a movie of big political statements, there’ll be no hellfire-and-brimstone Christians versus homophile secular humanists here. The red-state evangelicals on hand are all tasteful in their feelings that homosexuals will likely burn in hell, while the gay characters, both atheist and believer, love their fundamentalist neighbors as they love themselves. The issues are internal and, at times, microscopic.
With a very strong ensemble cast and what appears to be an intelligent screenplay, Loggerheads could have been a moving tale of dissolving families and redemption. Instead, the film is sunk by an excessive sense of its own significance and an overblown yet excessively tasteful emotional pitch. Too many scenes play as if they are the quietly heart-wrenching climax of the film. And then there’s that snail’s pace storytelling, even fans of Russian auteur-of-slowness Andrei Tarkovsky will be drumming their fingers, checking their watches, and thinking about dinner.
As impatient as I was with Loggerheads, I can’t hate it. The sincerity of its performances is too real; its compassion for its characters is too strong. On the other hand, I haven’t mentioned yet that the loggerhead is a species of turtle.