Byron Q’s Las Vegas Story serves as a corrective to the many films (e.g. Ocean’s Eleven) that have turned Las Vegas into a synonym for glitz and glamour. The protagonist, a 30-something woman named Maria (Christina Bocanegra), is a single mother who scrapes by as an escort in Las Vegas’ casinos. The film itself offers a slice-of-life portrait of her daily routine, following her as she deals with misogynistic clients, struggles to juggle work and family, and acts as counselor to her two best friends.
On the whole, the most frustrating thing about Las Vegas Story is its script. In the first place, Byron Q’s dialogue sometimes feels heavy-handed, equating character development with monologues that are little more than exposition dumps. At times, moreover, the language the characters use seems unnatural – do people really say things like “he will amount to something” in casual conversation? And in some places, the screenplay also borders on the didactic, featuring exchanges that make the film feel like a “message movie” about poverty and sexism.
“…following her as she deals with misogynistic clients, struggles to juggle work and family, and acts as counselor to her two best friends.”
Despite these issues, however, there are two reasons why Las Vegas Story ultimately “works.” For starters, Akis Konstantakopoulos’ cinematography effectively embodies Maria’s emotional state. Maria’s life, after all, is defined by a painful paradox: the only way she can make money is by voluntarily turning herself into a sex object. In keeping with this depressing reality, the camera evokes an atmosphere of languor, using long takes to illustrate Maria’s feelings of helplessness and despair.
The other thing that distinguishes Las Vegas Story is Bocanegra. While most of the actors in the film are actors by profession, Bocanegra worked as an escort in real life. Nonprofessional actors don’t necessarily make a film good (think 2012’s Act of Valor). But in this case, Bocanegra’s performance carries a remarkable authenticity; she captures Maria’s emotional essence without ever seeming to try. Thanks to her, the overall film overcomes its flaws, and it stands as a touching look at a profession that’s too often the subject of caricature.
Las Vegas Story (2015) Directed by Byron Q. Written by Byron Q. Starring Christina Bocanegra, Wade Allain-Marcus, and Francesca Fanti.
7 out of 10