Director/writer James Mottern has crafted a film that is a study of opposites joined at the proverbial hip by two characters cut from the same cloth.
After abandoning her just-born child and husband Len (Benjamin Bratt makes every scene count as his character battles the ravages of colon cancer), Diane (Michelle Monaghan brings considerable talent and insight to the role but can’t quite shake off her inner charm and innate sense of decency to be completely believable) drives big rigs, fucks willing men (Matthew Lawrence happily drops his drawers in the opening sequence) and lives alone. For companionship between hauls, she sucks back beers and bourbon with a smitten, sadly married neighbour, Runner (Nathan Fillion is appropriately adoring and confrontational as required; like the object of his illicit affections he’s too-nice-by-half to so openly ridicule his largely unseen, stoic wife).
Everyone’s life turns upside when—now eleven—son Peter (Jimmy Bennett) turns up on his estranged mom’s doorstep while his dad moves into the hospitalization phase of his disease. At first, this dramatic turn of events seems too contrived: loner Peter has no friends (“Dad is my best friend,” he admits) and his father’s current love interest, Jenny (the other woman role is played with understatement and quiet grace by Joey Lauren Adams) has family health issues of her own to sort out. Yet as the film works through its self-contained scenes, Mottern skilfully reveals his narrative hand in a manner that finally convinces and frequently moves.
Bennett and Monaghan have an engaging chemistry as the equally foul-mouthed combatants thrust and parry for control, attention and affection from one another. Their gradual bonding requires a toothbrush, baseball (including a marvellous celebration of being out on a pop fly but scoring a psychological home run) and whip cream. The early traces of the too on-the-nose script (“Don’t leave the truck,” advises the unlikely driver to her petulant offspring—guess what happens next …) quickly dissipate. As the tensions mount and tragedy hovers, Mottern hits his stride, letting his strong cast and attention to detail speak louder than words (having the worsening father meet his son in the hospital corridor rather than let his pride and joy see him deteriorating in bed resonates with subtle truth; making sure that Runner’s gleaming wedding band is in frame when he and Diane finally have their first real kiss adds much to the perpetual confusion that is the hallmark of any affair-in-progress).
As usual (cross-references below) Mychael Danna’s original score supports the action and is at rural one with Lawrence Sher’s imaginative cinematography. The generous helping of songs, notably Kay Adams’ rendition of “Little Pink Mack” and the metaphor-rich “Bones to Pick” keep the ear as enthused as the eye.
By journey’s end (with just one bat too many in the pivotal rescue moment), the most important issue is lovingly resolved, leaving many others in the background; fodder for another day under the brilliant California sun. JWR