If You Were the Last: SXSW Film Review
If You Were the Last may feature uneven humor and characterizations, but its third act provides a perfect landing that makes the shaky flight worthwhile.
Well, since Anthony Mackie never got to have his character go into space in the MCU, I guess now that void is filled. If You Were the Last sees him play Adam, an astronaut who finds himself stranded on a space mission with no hope of rescue. He’s joined by fellow astronaut Jane (Zoë Chao), as the two of them have been living by themselves for three years on board their vessel. Despite both of them being married, they debate the merits of hooking up, seeing as they appear forever trapped with no one but each other. After all, in space, no one can hear you moan. But would this complicate their relationship? Would they ever have to address the emotional fallout or reconcile it with the lives they once led and could still possibly go back to?
All of these questions are explored in If You Were the Last … eventually. After two acts of a functional but subpar romcom in space. If You Were the Last owes almost all of the positive feelings I have for it to its last third. Up until that point, I wasn’t really on board. Mackie and Chao have decent chemistry with one another, but that can only go so far when a lot of their dialogue is trying way too hard to force itself to be hip and witty. A lot of the banter doesn’t come across as sincere or, even worse, funny, with only a few exceptions. Adam’s your basic good guy who’s softer than he looks, Jane’s your basic sarcastic woman who softens up over time, and their interactions don’t do much to have me believe the deep friendship they’re supposed to have formed. They’re just … awkwardly cute enough to not dislike.
You also never really feel just how desolate and overbearing their situation is. Granted, we start out with our duo having already been out there for three years, so they must have grown at least somewhat used to it. But any time that burden is addressed, it’s always played for laughs instead of mixing in the humor with legitimate weight. There are some decent jokes, though, like the mere idea of them choosing to watch Alien for their movie night and that going … about as well as you’d expect. That’d be like watching Psycho right before your evening shower. If You Were the Last also takes advantage of its clearly small budget by representing the ship’s exterior with cute and colorful animations that even work their ways into the comedy at a few points.
Had If You Were the Last ended where I assumed it would end, I would have forgotten it really quickly. But what I thought would just be a quick little epilogue turns out to be the entire third act of the film. I won’t say exactly what happens, but you could probably put the pieces together from what I say, so … proceed with caution, I guess. Essentially, sometime after Adam and Jane make their decisions regarding their relations with each other, the consequences do come into play. When that happens, not only does the emotional intrigue ramp up significantly, but the comedy takes a noticeable backseat to let that intrigue flourish.
You see that the experiences these two have gone through are leaving an irreversible imprint on their minds and hearts. They can’t adjust back to anything they’re used to and need to confront what they try so hard to bury. And while negative feelings are born from all this, no one is at fault and there’s no obvious easy solution. It’s just a really rough set of circumstances where no way out is painless or victimless. If You Were the Last even gets a little chilling during a gorgeous dance sequence between our two leads, complete with ethereal lighting and proof that the film knows how to use a Tears for Fears song.
This whole ending doesn’t suddenly make If You Were the Last some sort of masterpiece, but it does make the problems I had with the rest of it worth sitting through. Even the goofier shenanigans from earlier come back with more meaning now attached to them. When you know that the relatively shallow material is going to amount to something more substantial, the groaners feel less like hinderances in hindsight and the strengths feel more prominent. If You Were the Last is definitely a film that proves itself to be smarter than it looks, and it’s an instance where a bumpy space trip can be salvaged by a perfect landing.
If You Were The Last premiered at SXSW 2023 on March 11-16, 2023. Read our SXSW reviews!