Diane's 11-year-old son soon gets dumped on her doorstep. Peter (Jimmy Bennett) must stay with her while his father is hospitalized. From here, you can guess the entire trajectory of the film — the done-to-death story of a reluctant parent forced to confront adulthood responsibility when a child enters her life. But it's not the plot that makes Trucker memorable. The lackluster and entirely predictable script is made up for by natural and nuanced performances.
Monaghan has a literal layer of grit on her throughout the film, often dressing in a simple white tank top and jeans. Despite dressing down, Monaghan still looks like the most beautiful truck driver ever. Men in the film seem to realize this, constantly referring to her as "Sweety" or "Honey" and lending credence to her desire to simply be left alone. The exception to her avoidance of human contact is her married drinking buddy Runner (Nathan Fillion, of Firefly and Castle fame), who makes clunky dialogue and telegraphed sexual tension sound natural.
When Peter's father, played by Benjamin Bratt in a cameo role, sends his son to live with Diane, she protests, explaining she's not home enough to care for a child. But she reluctantly agrees to take him in until a better solution can be found. So begins the slow burn of Peter and Diane becoming acquainted with each other, picking at each other's weaknesses and building toward some semblance of a mother-son relationship.
In many ways, Diane acts more like the lost and scared child than Peter, who puts up a tough and profanity-laced front to keep the distance. Diane, clearly not used to having to act in any sort of maternal fashion, addresses her son as "dude" and "man."
Diane brings Peter on a trip to Oklahoma City, leading to the first scene of them warming to each other. Peter is knocked to the ground by a couple of kids hanging in front of the convenience store, and when Diane sees him holding his bloody head, she scrams out of her hotel room in her underwear and pummels the bullies. It's the first in a series of tough-love events.
Director James Mottern is careful to let his shots linger long enough to allow his actors to dive into their character's emotions without it becoming overwrought. When Peter tells Diane that her job seems "lonely and boring" and that she's "the scaredest person in the world," the lines don't do much until you actually see Diane's heart breaking behind her steely eyes. When Peter overhears Diane telling a coworker she'll be "rid of the kid soon enough," his silent stares tell more than any dialogue that follows.
Mottern uses a series of color palates to help set the feel of the film. Sepia tones drown the screen whenever Diane is indoors and seem to get thicker when she's forced to interact with an adult member of the opposite sex. When she's safe and alone on the road, the screen is awash with bright, cold, blue and silver tones. The blue/silver scheme returns when Diane visits Peter's father in the hospital, lending an undertone of longing and regret that would have been impossible to portray through dialogue.
Although this performance won't win Monaghan an Oscar nod, it will certainly catapult her acting credibility and land her more leading roles. She proves that even when she's given little to work with, she can carry a film. Bennett's performance is perhaps the strongest in the film, completely devoid of puppy-dog-eyed parlor tricks. Plus, watching Monaghan, the hottest trucker in history, drinking to excess, cursing like it's going out of style, and running around in her underwear beating up teenagers should melt your heart, even if the ending won't.