Review by Sean Boelman
If You Were the Last is likely to draw a high profile thanks to its recognizable stars, but it’s actually an indie romance in disguise. A funny and sentimental movie, If You Were the Last might attempt to go too big on its premise at times, but there’s not been another film at SXSW this year that was this lovable.
The movie follows two astronauts who, fearing that they will spend the rest of their lives adrift in space, debate whether or not they should “do the deed.” It’s a fun, basic rom-com premise in a sci-fi setting, but there is something that feels so charmingly authentic about the story that it’s hard not to admire it.
For the first two thirds, it’s an adorable, lighthearted rom-com. There are plenty of moments that will have viewers giggling, and even a few that will have people laughing out loud. Although it’s really just a bunch of conversations — which sometimes even start to feel a bit repetitive — it’s undeniably sharp and delightful.
The final third of the film attempts to go into more profound territory, examining the ethics of the characters’ actions. Ultimately, this overt discussion is far less effective at doing the same thing than the “will-they-or-won’t-they” dynamic of the first two acts. The movie is at its best when it’s just a cute little rom-com.
Admittedly, the two leads are both very archetypal — and the Earthly spouses of the characters are wholly underdeveloped. However, all four of them are written in a way that is quite compelling. Audiences will likely understand and sympathize with all of them because the decisions they make all feel very natural.
The film’s success hinges heavily upon the chemistry of its two leads, and Anthony Mackie and Zoe Chao pull it off extraordinarily well. These characters are written to have subtle compatibility, and the sexual tension is definitely there, but not in a way that is so overt that we believe they would quickly leave their respective partners for each other.
Kristian Mercado’s directorial style might be somewhat divisive, but it works pretty well within the context of the movie. For the most part, it feels like an outer space mumblecore movie, and is pretty restrained as a result. However, there are some cutaway shots to diorama-like models of the spaceship’s exterior. It looks silly, but the silliness is perfectly on-tone for what the film is trying to be.
If You Were the Last is a charming sci-fi romantic comedy that thrives when it allows itself to be quaint and enjoyable. Kristian Mercado is one of the most charming new voices to debut at this year’s SXSW, and it will be exciting to see what he does next.
If You Were the Last screened at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 10-18 in Austin, TX.