Monday, April 28, 2008

Trucker: Tribeca Film Festival

From the press release:

"Diane Ford (Michelle Monaghan), a vivacious and successful independent truck driver, leads a carefree life of long-haul trucking, one night stands and all-night drinking until the evening her estranged 11-year-old son (Jimmy Bennett) shows up at her door. Peter hasn’t seen his mother since he was a baby and wants Diane as little as she wants him; but with his father Len (Benjamin Bratt) in the hospital, Diane and Peter are stuck with each other -- at least for a while. Burdened with this new responsibility and seeing the life of freedom she’s fought for jeopardized, Diane steps reluctantly into her past and looks sidelong at a future that is not as simple or straightforward as she had once believed."

If I were to play the Continental Op's "How many lies in this sentence?" game, I'd point to "vivacious," "successful" and "carefree" from that first sentence as cumulatively giving the (wrong) impression that all is happy and sunny with the main character's life until her damn kid shows up. Not so. The film starts with a one-night stand, and in the next seven minutes shows you a loner who avoids intimacy, has to fend off jerk guys, and hangs out/gets drunk with somebody's husband. Just as in the Plympton movie, there's very little to like in the main character here; and just like that film, a story that starts five miles past the last exit to Lovable earns its U-turn, in this case because of the fierce performance from Monaghan.

"Where do I know her from?" asked DJ. "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," I said. "My God, she doesn't even look like that girl," was DJ's reply, and Monaghan doesn't. (A performance like this shows you what she could have done in Gone Baby Gone if the Affleck Brothers had fleshed out her character with stuff from the novel. But then she would have blown Casey Affleck off the screen.) She doesn't blow Nathan Fillion off the screen, and their chemistry is just what you'd expect from two people who know that only their scars can kiss. Her scenes with Jimmy Bennett are real and borderline shocking for all the anger and resentment that erupts in them, and (except for one false-note moment when the kid tells her "I think you're the most frightened person I know" and it feels like The Author Talking) it's totally believable. This is the kind of role for women that only seems to pop up in small films, personal films, or self-produced films. Diana is a rich, real, complicated part, and Monaghan inhabits every nasty, frustrated, hopeful moment of it. What makes this movie even more amazing: it was filmed in less than three weeks. Plus Monaghan actually drives truck -- she got her license so she could do the picture.

Excerpts from writer/director James Mottern's pre-show and post-show comments:

MOTTERN: When I first sat down with Michelle to talk about this -- well I wasn’t actually talking her into doing it, it was more like tricking her into doing it -- I said, y’know, it’d be nice if you could get your CDL and actually drive a rig for this, and she said, yeah, I guess I could do that; my dad’s a farmer, he drives truck. And then when we were looking for financing, she’d be sending me reports, saying, “Yknow, there are 18 gears a stick shift and a splitter, and it’s little tough for me because I didn’t even know how to drive normal stick before this.” And I said to her, “You don’t really have to learn how to do it,” thinking please God I really hope she learns how to drive the truck, and she said, “I can’t do this part unless I learn how to drive the truck. I mean, can I, James? Can I?” So yes, in this movie, Monaghan drives truck . . .

We shot this in 19 days. It was a lot of fun; it was like the drama club went to the desert and made a movie . . .

We shot an awful lot of scenes in that golden twilight at the end of the day. A lot of producers say “It doesn’t matter what it looks like, it’s about the performance,” but in this case we waited it out till we got the right light. We filmed in Riverside, which is outside LA, which is gnarly during the day -- it’s polluted, it’s hot, people are on crystal meth –- but at night when all the sodium vapors come out in this polluted air, it’s really kind of beautiful . . .

[In response to the question “How much of the character Runner’s dialogue was yours and how much was ad-libbed by Nathan Fillion?”] My approach with the actors was kind of like an open society. We had the script but I’ve always believed that talk is cheap –- you need to find out what the subtext is and write for that. Michelle, well Michelle has depth to her –- depth like Ellen Burstyn, Sally Fields, Gena Rowlands – but there’s also this breeziness, this breeziness from another era, like from 1974. Nathan’s part, the character of Runner, is like this Southern California cliché, this football star who has everything going for him and then one day somebody hands the guy a joint and that’s it for the rest of his life. Nathan’s a great actor and the way he works, it’s off-handed but it’s very real, he makes it very real, and he always comes up with good things. And when I was writing I was riffing on the actors’ voices, that helped a lot, knowing who was playing the part; I could pick up on rhythms of speech and not just write the characters, but write the characters for them. Nathan’s great; I love him. And that chin. It’s just so –- I feel like I cast his chin in this movie.

And here's the website.

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