Editor’s note: This review was originally published during the 2023 SXSW Film Festival.
We’ve all heard the expression, “I wouldn’t sleep with you if you were the last person on Earth.” Put that premise within a spaceship floating off to who knows where. Considering that you are one of two people on this journey, you can agree, and it be nothing – or it turns into something because sometimes it’s just not as simple as physical intimacy. Jane (Zoë Chao) and Adam (Anthony Mackie) have settled into a routine as they’ve been gone from Earth for about three years. The beginning of If You Were The Last shows them playing chess against one another. They have movie nights, retreat to their respective part of the ship to work on bringing back signals and navigation, and help feed the last remaining farm animals they have.
For the moment, they look to have everything under control – although Adam’s Pop Tart stash is starting to dwindle. Both astronauts have a friendly rapport with each other that includes these dreamy dance sequences together. Things take a turn for the intriguingly complicated when Adam poses a question about them hooking up. At first, Jane wonders why he would even want to break the life they have together.
For starters, they are married to people back on Earth – but there’s the question of whether they will even make it back. Secondly, that could make things between them a tad awkward. That is continuously compounded by you only having that other person to exist with. (This is besides a hilariously placed skeleton who was third crew member Benson). It’s a lot to think about, and director Kristian Mercado and writer Angela Bourassa both know the audience expects a classic rom-com with a space-age twist.
If You Were the Last hits many conventional beats, albeit with a stylish twist. Much of the intergalactic travel is depicted with a cool cardboard cutout. The lighting in certain scenes makes this feel fresh and new as the film progresses. While the situations to get these two characters in bed together might feel a little much, the two leads make If You Were the Last what it is. Mackie and Chao together exhibit a playful chemistry that also grabs vulnerability.
There’s a specific instance where Jane’s musical cartridge breaks down (homage to the NES), and she can’t use her favorite tunes to center herself. It’s at that point that Adam comes over and sings Lionel Richie's “All Night Long” to her to bring her some happiness. Little instances like those make you want to root for them together. In the film's second half, it’s almost as if If You Were the Last’s space premise can only go so far. Once Jane and Adam return to Earth on a hero's welcome, it brings another assortment of issues.
Can they genuinely forget about all the time they’ve spent together? Will they both be able to re-integrate themselves into the lives of spouses who may have moved on and grown from them entirely? For how dreamy and retro the first half of the film felt, Mercado changes things up once we get back on solid ground – electing to take part in that feeling and implement it into how these characters feel towards one another. Again, this is also because of the great performances Mackie and Chao exhibit in contemplation of what happened.
You can’t help who you fall in love with – especially if it’s light years away from home. The film’s ending could be considered foreseeable and maybe a smidge too neat. However, If You Were the Last does enough of the work to justify rooting for it to happen.