Strand Releasing
Kip Pardue, as Mark, visits a North Carolina beach to observe loggerhead turtles in "Loggerheads."
LOGGERHEADS — ** 1/2 — Tess Harper, Bonnie Hunt, Kip Pardue; rated PG-13 (adult themes, profanity).

Tim Kirkman made a name for himself on the festival circuit several years ago with his documentary "Dear Jesse," in which the filmmaker — a gay man — examined his mixed feelings about his home state of North Carolina and its longtime U.S. senator Jesse Helms.

In "Loggerheads," Kirkman's first fiction feature, he once again delves into his own ambivalence about his roots, this time in a closely observed, occasionally overearnest melodrama about family, identity and the mystical dance between nature and nurture.

The film follows three individuals over three successive Mother's Days, starting in 1999. The first story line features Kip Pardue as Mark, an attractive drifter who winds up on North Carolina's Kure Beach to observe the loggerhead turtles laying their eggs. One year later, we meet Elizabeth (Tess Harper), a preacher's wife living in Eden, N.C., and in 2001, we meet Grace (Bonnie Hunt), a car-rental agent who has moved back to Asheville to live with her mother, Sheridan (Michael Learned).

The connection among these three stories doesn't begin to emerge until about a half-hour into "Loggerheads," but the film's complicated matrix of time and place eventually makes sense. If "Loggerheads" sometimes feels too forced, it features some unforgettable performances, especially by Hunt, an accomplished comedian who makes an impressive debut as a dramatic lead here. To describe her scene with Harper late in the film would be to betray the essential mystery of "Loggerheads," but it pays moving homage to the myriad ways mothers love their children.

"Loggerheads" is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material and brief strong language. Running time: 95 minutes.