The romantic in me absolutely adored “If You Were the Last,” a magical little film about finding friendship, connection, and love, even in the most dire of circumstances. Sweet, funny, and genuinely endearing, this feature debut from director Kristian Mercado is the best kind of cinematic soul food.
It’s been three years since astronauts Adam (Anthony Mackie) and Jane (Zoe Chao) departed on a mission where everything went wrong. Adrift in space with no hope for rescue, they spend their days caring for the broken ship, keeping each other company, watching movies, and doing a lot of dancing. Slowly coming to the realization that it’s going to be just the two of them from now on, Adam suggests that maybe they should sleep together. Not wanting to make their professional and personal lives even more complicated, Jane immediately squashes the idea. But as the two begin discussing and debating it more, the possibility of a fun and physical activity begins to grow more appealing. After all, they’re going to die up there, and nobody on Earth would ever know
It’s a terrific story that’s crafted with an earnest authenticity by screenwriter Angela Bourassa. She writes men and women equally well, and while we never learn too much about Adam or Jane, the character development still manages to feel complex and highly detailed. The film’s opening scene takes place after they’ve been stuck together for years, but it’s easy to settle right into their friendship and their obvious feelings of mutual respect.
Mercado’s direction gives an optimistic, hopeful feeling to the story, including his quirky and cartoonish style of visual effects. The papier-mâché renderings of outer space reminded me of something you’d see on the old “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” show, which romanticizes the feeling of nostalgia in a way that’s downright irresistible.
While this is a love story at its core, there are little reminders that the stakes are very high for Adam and Jane as they face certain death. They’ve run out of medicine and can’t risk having even a small accident, Jane has a meltdown when her music recordings malfunction and she is faced with living out her remaining days without the comfort of her favorite songs, and Adam sheds a tear when he eats the last bite of his final remaining Pop-Tart, something he will never be able to experience again. Both are fully aware that one day, something on the ship is going to fail that they can’t repair. Mercado finds a nice balance between both hopefulness and tragedy.
The film features two characters who are trapped in a confined space, and Mercado does so much with such a limited setting. A lot of the film’s success with this should be credited to Chao and Mackie, as their chemistry feels effortless and pure. These are two people you actually love spending time around (and rooting for).
The best parts of the story take place in space, and the film loses much of its momentum when the focus shifts to what’s going on back home at NASA. The epilogue feels unnecessarily lengthy, and there’s a jarring contrast to how Mercado presents the whimsical look and feel of space with the stark realities back on Earth. But it’s Adam and Jane’s relationship that provides the true heartbeat of the film.
“If You Were the Last” is a wonderful story of friendship and love that rings true. It’s a sweet, earnest film that provides an abundance of feel-great joy.
By: Louisa Moore