The other day, a student showed me the Story Bible for a fictional world he plans to write about. Carefully, he took me through the details of the world and the various people who populate it.
At one point, he said, "I don't know if this is the kind of story you'd read, Mr. Givens, but what do you think?"
I told him, "I don't have a particular type of story I like to read, but you gotta give me good characters. You give me good characters, and I will follow a story wherever it goes, come hell or high water."
We then began talking about the characters in his story, and I was indeed fascinated.
As I started writing this review for Leaving Las Vegas, that conversation came to mind because the reason this 22-year-old movie has remained a favorite is due to the two central characters, Ben and Sera. They are sad, incredibly flawed characters with issues that should render happiness an impossibility for them - Ben is a suicidal drunk; Sera is an abused hooker. However, these two meet on the streets of Las Vegas and find some relief from their lonesome lives,
Leaving Las Vegas isn't a happy movie. Ben and Sera are on a trajectory that will only leave them alone again. But, the film offers a small sliver of hope that even two people who have gotten so low can still connect and offer each other a moment of love and acceptance. And, you want them to have that hope because, despite their flaws, Ben and Sera are real people who generate real sympathy. They are what make the darker moments in the film palatable.