James Mottern’s latest picture, Trucker, stars Michelle Monaghan as a solitary female long-haul truck driver. A challenge, to be sure, as it is easy to rely on gender stereotypes when dealing with unconventional gender roles. The film handles this well, though, with Monaghan’s Diane as a tough, independent, and very self-assured woman living in a man’s world. Her work is her life – she’s early for every delivery, makes all of her on-time bonuses, and is in many ways stronger than her male counterparts. She assumes a male role in many ways, but retains subtle touches of femininity that make her believable while, for the most part, avoiding the butch female archetype.
Her life changes rather quickly, however, when her ex-husband reveals that he is terminally ill and she must take care of the 11 year-old son who she left when he was less than a year old. Peter, played by the young Jimmy Bennett (Shorts), captures bitter resentment perfectly in a performance that is imbued with nuance beyond his years. Like his mother, he is headstrong and doesn’t take shit from anyone, which culminates in an inability to connect with his passions in the same way that Diane struggles to forge and maintain relationships.
Trucker begins slowly, taking time to give details of situations, the depth of story released gradually and in good time. We learn the characters’ histories as the narrative progresses, deepening our understanding of the relationships that inform their behaviour.
The relationship between Diane and her son is never sentimentalised. Both have a lot of growing up to do. They are afraid of each other and the expectations attached to mother-son relationships. Struggling to find their own rhythm, Diane has a tendency to run away from commitment and be tied down by expectations, while Peter tries to reconcile the resentment he feels with the maternal love and affection that he desires.
Overall, Trucker introduces a great concept. Monaghan is strong, bold, and feminine in a nuanced performance that contrasts physical strength with emotional weakness and vice-versa. Trucker is an excellent achievement in gender-aware filmmaking.