Trucker

By Laura Gatewood

"Trucker," the first feature by James Mottern, stars Michelle Monaghan in the titular role as a tough as nails big-rig driver whose fiercely protected independent lifestyle is turned upside down when her estranged eleven year son, Peter, shows up at her doorstep for a three week stay when his father, (Benjamin Bratt) takes to the hospital with colon cancer and current mother figure, Jenny (Joey Lauren Adams) has to leave the state for a family emergency.
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008 and a year later it's getting limited theatrical release on its way to DVD land. 
Mottern doesn’t waste any time establishing the extremes to which Monaghan’s character, Diane Ford, has boxed herself into a sentimentally sterile persona. The film opens with a scene that shows Diane, playing the polar opposite of the female stereotype right down to the rugged brown boots she wears with no socks, enjoying the commitment-free benefits of hourly rooms at a highway motel and then fleeing the scene with no promises to stay in touch, despite protestations from her sexy young stud. Yet by so quickly and firmly establishing Diane’s barren emotional landscape, Mottern skates too closely to heavy-handed characterizations that disallow for intriguing contradictions to rise to the surface. And such contradictions would have ultimately, despite the excellent work by Monaghan and the rest of the cast, enriched the film experience and made it more of an impacting story. 
After witnessing a typical day in Diane’s loner life as one of hard driving and even harder drinking, a pastime supported by her sole friend, Runner (Nathan Fillion), who is barely able to hold back his unrequited crush, to discover that she is a mother (though in her case the term can only be applied on sheerest technicality) is a shock to the audience, though probably not as much of one as the unwelcome appearance of her son, Peter, is a shock to Diane. Clearly she’d expected and hoped to never be confronted with her undesired progeny again. But life can’t be planned and though Diane tries to bluster her way through a temporary baby-sitting gig, at first keeping Peter at arm’s length with outright hostility which he only too happily returns in kind (she calls him a ‘little shit’ and he calls her a ‘bitch’), it’s a foregone conclusion to the audience that once a repressed mother and angry child who feigns apathy are slapped together, there isn’t any other outcome other than an emotional bonding and acceptance of one another coming at the end of the film. The road to their eventual bonding is a bumpy one, as Peter and Diane are cut from the same temperament cloth and seem to be at the same maturity level too – both are desperate to appear invulnerable and incapable of being hurt – but that they will forgive and let themselves love is never in doubt.
Mottern’s clichéd narrative, fortunately, is partially saved by the performances. Peter is played with a nice balance of hurt, resentment and hope by Jimmy Bennett, striking out only to get some emotional response, even if negative, out of his mother, and Monaghan doesn’t make any concessions to the almost offensive brusqueness of Diane, throwing herself fully and successfully in the role. And Nathan Fillion brings a sweetness and sadness to Runner, a character who could have too easily come across as a would-be cheater only lusting after Diane because she is out of his reach.
Part of the weakness of Trucker is that despite of Monaghan’s commitment to Diane, the character doesn’t have enough flesh to make the audience commit to her too. To Diane, emotional responsibility is anathema to her lifestyle, but why this is exactly, for a woman who has reached thirty, the audience is never allowed to find out. Mottern writes Diane as a woman who can drink any man under the table and who feels very little, other than pride at finally owning her truck outright. Yet such an extreme character begs a lot of questions about what type of environment she came out of. Diane is clearly someone who has taken self-protection to an extreme, but the pain or suffering that led her to evolve into the person the audience meets at the beginning of Trucker is not mined for dramatic gold. The only allusion to Diane’s softer side arrives quite subtly when she lies down on her bed after a long trip and tries to fall asleep in the fetal position with her hands wrapped around a favorite blanket yet isn’t taken any farther. That Diane finally forces herself to learn to care about her child and stop living “half-assed” as she says at the end of the movie, would be a deeper character transition if the audience was given a better glimpse into why she ever decided to start living half-assed in the first place.
Cast
Diane: Michelle Monaghan
Peter: Jimmy Bennett
Runner: Nathan Fillion
Len: Benjamin Bratt
Jenny: Joey Lauren Adams
Credits
Written and directed by James Mottern