American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"El Camino" is a pure American road movie, freed of the requirements of plot, requiring only a purpose and a destination. It is so pure that it involves two men and a woman, all in their 20s, all in the same station wagon, and there is not a romantic triangle. All three have different needs in life and have joined together only for this journey.
They meet for the first time when their friend Matthew (Richard Gallagher) dies. Elliot (Leo Fitzpatrick) and Matthew were in foster care together. Lily (Elisabeth Moss, from "Mad Men") was his former girlfriend. Gray (Christopher Denham) met him and felt an immediate bond. After the funeral, Gray and Lily decide to steal Matthew's ashes and scatter them in Mexico. Elliot insists on going along, and he will pay. That's the deal maker.
What did Matthew really mean to them? The movie lacks the usual heart-spilling confessions. All three are reticent, revealing themselves in elliptical asides. Nor do they spill the beans about their own lives. They pound on, mile after mile, North Carolina to Mexico, one cheap motel after another, lots of cigarettes, desultory talk, honky-tonk bars, a fight, unhappy telephone calls.
Road movies require colorful people along the way. This one has a couple. Wes Studi plays a self-employed man who repairs their car, invites them to dinner, has strong political opinions (not the ones you might expect) and contempt for Gray's cynicism. Amy Hargreaves plays an older woman in a bar who smiles at Gray and ends up listening to his introspections, and no, she's not a hooker, she's lonely and nice.