If You Were The Last Review: A Heartfelt And Complicated Love Story … In Space [SXSW 2023]

Slash Film

“If You Were The Last” is a fairy tale about friends with benefits, chemical attachments, and complicated relationships — in space. Kristian Mercado’s feature debut shoots courtship drama into orbit, defying societal norms here on Earth. Angela Bourassa’s screenplay sparkles like stars in the night sky, relying on conversations to hold the audience’s attention in this dialogue-heavy interstellar chamber piece. Mercado’s style is charmingly lo-fi, thanks to nifty arts and crafts effects (whether real or animated). He trusts actors to carry scenes with nothing but their charisma and flaunts impressive command for a debut filmmaker. It’s like “No Strings Attached” but with zero gravity or “Friends With Benefits” caught in Jupiter’s orbit.

Anthony Mackie co-stars as NASA astronaut Adam, a scientist stuck adrift in the cosmos with technician team member Jane (Zoe Chao). They’re somewhere in Year 3, around day 1,000, with no signs of ever returning home thanks to navigation and communication malfunctions. They kill time by fiddling with wires, watching favorite movies, and staying active in their exercise facility. Then, Adam poses the million-dollar question — should they have sex? It’s a basic human impulse, and they might aimlessly float until they die. Thus begins their daily debate about what sex means, how it can change everything, and if a shared orgasm is worth risking their friendship.

Romantic Chemistry

Mercado’s production design team creates this wonderland homeliness about the spacecraft, like how there’s a den area that’s furnished like any Americana living room with showroom furniture, a rug, and a television. The large wall-sized window reveals pinkish, orangey, purplish solar system backdrops that are colorful like a kindergartener’s painting, morphing space’s suffocating darkness into a whimsical landscape. Outdoor views of the NASA vessel are cardboard models, rainbow streamers, and other craft supplies that soften the otherwise dire scenario of hurdling through nothingness without any indication of rescue. “If You Were The Last” could be dismally dark — or worse, “Passengers” — but Mercado’s do-it-yourself special effects soothe like a warm blanket that keeps us cozy (while doubling as a visual storytelling device to be later revealed).

Mackie and Chao ooze romantic chemistry as they banter back and forth about the meaninglessness and importance of sexual intercourse. Mackie’s man of research weighs decisions based on not wanting to masturbate in the greenhouse anymore, while Chao’s more romantic soul pokes holes in more robotic arguments. Mackie and Chao’s will they/won’t they is dripping with sexual tension as they tangle limbs during dance interludes or cuddle after watching “Alien,” all the while breaking down basic human urges and our desires for happiness. There’s an overarching theme of finding pleasure even in the most drastic situations and complications once details from their Earth existences are introduced as more debate topics — which cannot thwart the charisma behind either Mackie or Chao’s horned-up inquisitions.

Sensually Aware, Wholesomely Funny, And Emotionally Fulfilling

Bourassa pens a romantic comedy in a hopeless place, finding humor where it should not exist. Kookiness becomes a calling card, from the not-at-all-morbid skeleton in a space suit — Benson, their deceased third crewmate — to conversation topics that instigate forward back and forths. Multiple years in isolation break all barriers between Adam and Jane (sex is the final frontier), which grants a no-filter attitude that speaks freely about romantic follies or dangers that we on Earth often never voice. These truths can hit with forceful impact, but Mercado rarely lets deeper introspection erase the hilarity of typical rom-com tropes that must abide by science fiction rules.

“If You Were The Last” succeeds in being sensually aware, wholesomely funny, and emotionally fulfilling. Anthony Mackie and Zoe Chao share brutally intimate moments, whether bluntly conversing about risks involved with physical connections or lighting up the screen with their bodily chemistry that speaks volumes via unspoken attraction. Some jokes fall a bit flatter — comedy is always a matter of preference, so that might not be an issue for everyone — and the settings can be restrictive at times (by design), but overall, Kristian Mercado oversees an out-of-this-world romantic comedy that’s allowed to be messy. Love is, after all, an imperfect science driven by passion. Mercado and Angela Bourassa explore what it means to rationalize the irrational, choosing to remain hopeful and filter everything through adorableness because, at the end of the day, life is about finding the person who you’d be happily floating with through space like you’re the last people … well, anywhere.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Read this next: The Funniest Movie Scenes Of 2022

The post If You Were The Last Review: A Heartfelt And Complicated Love Story … In Space [SXSW 2023] appeared first on /Film.

/Film – If You Were The Last Review: A Heartfelt And Complicated Love Story … In Space [SXSW 2023]
Author: Matt Donato
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March 13, 2023

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