Space-themed love stories aren’t unique. Like most rom-coms (sci-fi or otherwise), regardless of the setting, most play out like every other. Director Kristian Mercado delivers one of the best films of SXSW 2023. Like another SXSW offering, Molli and Max in the Future, If You Were the Last, starring Anthony Mackie and Zoe Chao, proves that lo-fi sci-fi can work when a talented cast, excellent soundtrack, and clever script drive the story.
Trapped millions of miles from Earth, a pair of astronauts, Adam (Mackie) and Jane (Chao), make the best of each other’s company and what might be their last days alive. Both have relationships on Earth, but the pair resolves themselves to the possibility of dying because of broken communication equipment and an inoperable navigation system that prevents the ship from functioning. They wile away their time by listening to their favorite music (the soundtrack is fantastic), playing games, caring for their food sources (including a goat and chickens), and watching movies. Jane also spends significant time trying to fix the ship, maintaining hope.
I watched the second screening of the comedy If You Were the Last, so the leads were not in attendance, but the director was. Visually, the movie is perfect. Mercado’s sets are fantastic – retro, colorful, and stylish. He employs an adorable 8-Bit communication platform and a cool UX robot to add to the funky feel. He creatively animated her exterior sequences and views, adding intimacy to the lo-fi, sci-fi feel. If You Were the Last is wholly amusing. Detailed exteriors of crafted cardboard spaceships, papier-mâché planets, and brightly themed walls occupy Jane and Adam’s tiny world. Delightful stop-motion animation, striking matte paintings, and appealing costuming bring an incredible array of colors into every scene, making it a must-see and a gem from the festival.
With so few in the cast, Mercado relies on his leads, and they shine. Making it better, he and scriptwriter Angela Bourassa haven’t made a film about let’s “do it” before we die, but one more about human connections. They also wonderfully infuse their story with clever banter and genuine emotions. Mackie and Chao are outstanding and entertainingly watchable. I found myself wishing they would figure out how to stay alive and away rather than rooting for them to return home somehow.
When I attended SWSX, I hoped to find a few films that stand out brightly, and If You Were the Last is one of them. I am sorry to have missed the Q&A that included Chao and Mackie because I am sure it was a blast. I am not sure when and where this movie will land for broader audiences, but when it does, I will watch it again. It is simply that fresh and that good. I am placing five stars up top for this charmingly unpretentious comic experience.