While giving up a child for adoption must be an agonizing ordeal, the laws in North Carolina fail to make it any easier. They issue ‘closed adoptions’, which means that the mother and child are not able to contact each other once the adoption takes place. If they try to get in touch with the agency for information, they are given back a generic slip of paper citing useless tidbits, but nothing that makes a reunion possible. Aptly titled, there is a website called Bastards.org devoted to exposing the fine print.
Based on a true story, Loggerheads is about the impact of one adoption on several lives in North Carolina. Grace (Bonnie Hunt) got pregnant as a teenager, and was coerced by her parents into giving her baby up for adoption. She has never forgiven herself, and due to the state’s absurd laws is unable to establish contact. Her son Mark (Kip Pardue) is now a drifter, spending his days on the beach after being exiled by his adoptive family over his homosexuality. It’s hard enough being gay in a small town, let alone having a Reverend for a father. Elizabeth (Tess Harper) and Robert (Chris Sarandon) are responsible for ostracizing their adopted son, and deal in their own ways with the consequences.
Mark, the finest looking homeless man on the planet, looks like he wandered out of an American Eagle catalog and landed in a beach community. He’s fascinated by loggerheads, an endangered breed of turtles that are abandoned by their mother before they’ve even hatched from their eggs. Mark sympathizes with these turtles, wondering why his biological mother left him or even worse, why he got dumped into an intolerant, religious household. His attempts to contact her have proven futile, and he devotes himself to saving the turtles since he can’t control his own life. A local motel owner George (Michael Kelly) is drawn to Mark, and their connection manifests in a loving relationship. In the meantime, Grace has hired a private investigator to try and locate Mark, and Elizabeth realizes that she can’t live with herself anymore without knowing if he’s okay. Which of course, he isn’t.
Loggerheads is a beautifully subtle movie that gets its message across without screaming it into your ear with a megaphone. It’s a mellow, subdued piece, accompanied by a great soundtrack full of angelic female folk voices. It may move at the pace of a turtle, but it really grabs you and makes you care about these characters. Mark is a kindred spirit who has never really felt at home anywhere, and his life has consisted of one rejection after another, until meeting George. Grace feels a big part of her is missing from this child she gave up, and she has never been able to live a fulfilling life afterwards. It’s as though she lost herself while handing this baby over to another family. It is rare to see such insight and sincerity placed into a movie about an uncomfortable topic without turning it into a sappy Lifetime television special.
Kip Pardue plays a sensitive lost soul with such effortless ease, that it makes you wonder if he’s even acting. Regardless, he looks pretty doing it. Bonnie Hunt is best known as the sassy sidekick in movies like Jerry Maguire, but she truly shines in her first starring dramatic role. She always appears just an inch from a breakdown, letting her eyes fill up with tears before forcing herself back into neutral. The hardest performances often involve minimalist acting, where you’re not given a single hysterical episode or a lengthy monologue that will earn you Oscars. Hunt does an amazing job wearing her pain right at the surface, and the movie is her showcase.
While Loggerheads is a compelling movie that many people will find relatable, its public labels may limit its audience. I’ve found several sources dubbing it a ‘Gay Film’, when really it’s a human story that happens to have a gay lead character. That label implies that it would be most accessible to people who are gay themselves, when really it’s just about someone lost who is trying to find peace. It doesn’t get much more universal than that, and I would hate to see people shy away from it expecting something kinky or irreverent. The movie above all else is about tolerance and forgiveness, especially within yourself. Sadly, the people who would most benefit from it are too narrow-minded to see it. Go figure.