‘If You Were the Last’ review: Zoë Chao and Anthony Mackie give gravity some levity as stranded astronauts in an out-of-this-world comedy | SXSW
When do you really know that the world is ending, and it’s okay to do something completely out of character with irreversible consequences? There’s no easy answer to that question, yet the prospect of certain death feels like the safest scenario in which to indulge in unusual and unexpected behavior. If You Were the Last explores that concept with a warm, entertaining tale of two astronauts drifting to their demise who consider the benefits of coupling up because they’re never going to make it home.
Jane (Zoë Chao) and Adam (Anthony Mackie) are aboard a ship that has lost its navigation and communications systems. They try in vain each day to connect the right wires to restart the stalled ship, and find ways to pass the time in between their futile efforts. They dance together, argue over which movie to watch each night, and tend to their onboard goat and other resources. Faced with an eternity stuck billions of miles from Earth unless the ship one day fails completely, Adam suggests that they consider the idea of sleeping together. Jane objects since they will inevitably form an attachment, but it’s only a matter of time before the proposition becomes too alluring to resist.
Director Kristian Mercado makes his feature debut with a script from Angela Bourassa that features witty dialogue that’s equally believable and funny. It’s also very self-aware, with its characters able to joke about their situation, analyzing Matt Damon’s similar predicament in The Martian and the economic idiocy of rescuing him. The cinematic approach is a minimalist one, forgoing digital recreations of space in favor of papier-mâché models of planets and ships that make the story feel even lighter and more delightful.
It’s a blast to watch Chao and Mackie as they engage in friendly banter and gently pick at each other’s soft spots. What they do to keep themselves entertaining is particularly amusing, including repeated shots of the dead third astronaut, Benson, a skeleton head coming out of a suited body that is frequently seen holding a book or a cup of coffee, or merely serving as a sounding board for both of their private confessions about each other (Jane also references another familiar setup, Cast Away, during the film). Jane is particularly quick in her responses, and Adam is always ready to reply in kind, even if he seems to be the more emotional one of the two.
This film can be described as a romantic comedy, one that conveniently uses space as its setting but only references it for circumstantial purposes. As it goes on and these colleagues consider elevating their friendship, it takes on more dramatic qualities that are just as rich and wonderful. Chao and Mackie are perfectly equipped for all facets of their characters, and they have stellar chemistry. Even if the film’s events aren’t all entirely airtight, testing the limits of believability at times with later plot points, it’s easy to fall in love with the characters even before they fall in love with each other.
For audiences who might think that there aren’t fresh or inventive stories left to tell in space, If You Were the Last is a fantastic example of how simplicity, honesty, and genuine humor can combine perfectly for a thoroughly rewarding experience. Opting not to indulge in a heavy special effects budget and instead to focus on quirky background elements of a spaceship that sometimes feels like it was designed by a child, with expressive pixelated faces on computer screens, works wondrously to supplement a sweet and winning sci-fi romance.
This review is from the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. There is no U.S. distribution at this time.