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A Woman Everybody’s Used To

September 4th, 2010 · 4 Comments

Trucker 2009 Michelle Monaghan Jimmy Bennett pic 4

The Bechdel Test was named for Allison Bechdel, whose comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For in 1985 measured the female presence in movies by employing three criteria: Are there two or more women in it, with names? Do the women talk to each other? About something other than a man? Far too many mainstream movies flunk this test, but in the month of September, I take a look at ten recent movies that pass.

Trucker 2009 poster A Trucker 2009 poster B

Trucker (2009)
Directed by James Mottern
Written by James Mottern
Produced by Celine Rattray, Galt Niederhoffer, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Scott Hanson
93 minutes

Stripped so bare that any clichés fall by the wayside, Trucker is like a television concept workshopped at the Austin Film Festival into something much greater. Screenwriter James Mottern set up his script — first at The Bob Yari Company, later at Hart-Sharp Entertainment — only to have both companies dissolve before financing could be arranged. With the help of producer Robert Kessel, Mottern got his script to Celine Rattray, Galt Niederhoffer and Daniela Taplin Lundberg, the trinity whose Manhattan based Plum Pictures raised roughly $1.5 million for Mottern to make his directorial debut. Michelle Monaghan read the script in 2006 and stayed attached for the year it took Mottern to find money; she also earned her CDL to prepare for the part. Trucker was shot in Granada Hills and Riverside and along Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles over 18 days.

While Trucker offers a storyline that anyone with a basic cable subscription might feel they’ve seen — female truckers on the History Channel, latchkey kids on the Learning Channel, low key affairs on the Sundance Channel — what’s unique about Mottern’s script is how vividly it captures the world of a woman who spends two weeks of every month on the road and fears of slowing down, even for the son she gave up. The characters are honest, the dialogue terse and the sentiment is earned. In casting Michelle Monaghan in the title role, Mottern had all he really needed to complete a strong debut film; Monaghan seems to have absorbed everyone she’s ever met at a California truck stop into a defining performance. Director of photography Lawrence Sher (Garden State) provided the stark lighting and composer Mychael Danna (500 Days of Summer) furnished the rustic score.

Trucker 2009 title card

After a roll in the hay with the server from a truck stop diner, owner/operator Diane Ford (Michelle Monaghan) is back on the highway delivering a load to Reno.  She returns to her one bedroom home in the trucking hub of Riverside, California, where her neighbor Runner (Nathan Fillion) invites Diane out for drinking and dancing at the VFW. A jack-of-all-trades in construction, Runner has kept his relationship with Diane strictly plutonic due to the fact that he’s married.  Stumbling home, Diane is met by Jenny (Joey Lauren Adams) and an 11-year-old named Peter (Jimmy Bennett). Girlfriend of Diane’s ex-husband, Jenny is unable to look after Peter while the boy’s father is being treated for colon cancer and she has a funeral to attend. This leaves the couple no choice but leave Peter with his estranged mom for three weeks.

With neither Peter nor his biological mother comfortable with the arrangement, Diane visits her ex-husband Len (Benjamin Bratt) at the hospital but discovers his condition is more serious than Jenny let on. Diane takes her son with her to Oklahoma City, sacrificing her on-time bonus so Peter can enjoy the sights. Trying to be maternal, Diane is unable to reconcile her lifestyle with the demands of parenting and Peter resents her for it. Enrolled in school and Little League baseball in Riverside, Peter adapts to his temporary home, with Runner looking after him while Diane is on the road. The boy begins to see through his mother’s tough veneer and realizes how scared she is. As Len’s health continues to decline, mother and son try to make the best of the hand they’ve been dealt.

Trucker 2009 Michelle Monaghan pic 2

Trucker 2009 Michelle Monaghan Nathan Fillion pic 3

Trucker 2009 Michelle Monaghan Jimmy Bennett pic 1

Trucker 2009 Nathan Fillion Michelle Monaghan pic 5

Trucker 2009 Benjamin Bratt Michelle Monaghan pic 6

Trucker 2009 Michelle Monaghan pic 7

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Trucker 2009 Jimmy Bennett Michelle Monaghan pic 9

Trucker 2009 Michelle Monaghan pic 10

Trucker 2009 Jimmy Bennett Michelle Monaghan pic 11

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 397 users: 57% for Trucker

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 61 for Trucker

Read Marilyn Ferdinand’s effusive review of Trucker at Ferdy on Films.

Tags: Ambiguous ending · Drunk scene · Father/son relationship · Mother/son relationship · Psychoanalysis · Road trip · Unconventional romance

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Wes // Sep 4, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Great review of “Trucker”. The trailer caught my attention when it was on IFC on demand. It’s seems so stark that I have been saving it until I am in the right mood.

  • 2 Marilyn // Sep 4, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Thanks for the mention, Joe, and of the acknowledgment of a film that needs help finding an audience. Trucker takes a cliched set-up, as you point out, and then Monaghan works her alchemy. By the way, she comes from a family of truckers and was very proud of getting her CDL.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Sep 4, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Wes: I think it’s important to distinguish between “stark” and “heavy” sometimes. In the case of Trucker, I think the shooting schedule dictated a minimal approach but the movie itself is quite sensual and carries a note of hope. Anyway, I can’t recommend it enough!

    Marilyn: Other than Inception, I’m not sure which movies get the audience they deserve these days, but Trucker is worthy of discovery. I was charmed and disarmed by Michelle Monaghan in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and am thrilled to see that she’s more than a lamb chop. In her performance, I recognized single mothers I’ve known.

  • 4 Marilyn // Sep 4, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Monaghan got on my radar screen when I saw her in Mission Impossible III. Even though she’s a ringer for Katie Holmes and that probably helped secure her casting, she was wonderful in the part. She has an unusual beauty and inner fire that keeps a tantalizing secret from audiences. That’s very like Meryl Streep’s method, but it seems less forced than Streep’s creation of roles.

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