A tiny story told in a teensy movie, "The Yellow Handkerchief" flaps and flutters, just blowing in the wind. It's one of those aching minimalist tales about reg'lar folks in search of reg'lar things love, connection, satisfaction and it wears its heart all over the place.

Blanketed in quiet wistfulness and steeped in past regrets, this underachieving soul-warmer tastes like Diet Nicholas Sparks. The film, made in 2008, doesn't get more profound than this: "She's the one thing in your whole life you ever loved," a line spoken with a powdery Southern drawl by a pre-meteoric Kristen Stewart, who doesn't seem sure she believes what she's saying.

In a battered, boat-sized convertible, three strangers take a road trip across Louisiana, destination unknown. Stewart's lost, lonely teen Martine hops a ride with gawky, freckled-face Gordy (Eddie Redmayne). They promptly pick up William Hurt's Brett, who that very day was released from six years in prison for manslaughter. (They don't get the ex-con news until later, and they think it's kind of cool.)

Brett has the wounded look and taciturn comportment that lend him grave mystery. He's not a dangerous guy. It's just that, as flashbacks featuring a scraggly-lovely Maria Bello reveal, he's all tangled up about a love affair he thought had died when he went away.

It's all rather patchy and loose. Gordy's feelings for Martine might be requited if the girl would forget her (vague, generic) family troubles.

The teens bicker as their elder companion looks on like a bothered uncle. Hurt has given two or three performances in his life. This is one of them.

Stewart, to me, is a self-conscious actress, rarely freed from her own dictatorial image control. She never seems to be having fun. She makes a fine sullen teenager. Hers could be the most influential pout since James Dean's.

Yearning and loss drench "The Yellow Handkerchief," directed in blazing southern sunlight by Udayan Prasad ("My Son the Fanatic") and based on a story by Pete Hamill. Though not oppressively dour — here and there they smile and emote — the unlikely threesome isn't the type to sing along to mix tapes on the road. When they stop at a diner, you can only hope they'll order three steaming bowls of chicken soup for the soul.

cgarcia@statesman.com; 445-3649

Rating: PG-13 for sexuality, violence, language. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Theater: Arbor.