In a post-Covid world, the concept of isolation is all too real. However, even in the most dire circumstances, we reach out for connection from those around us. If You Were the Last takes this idea a bit further. Director Kristian Mercado delivers one of the year’s cutest and most unique visual spectacles. His lo-fi Science fiction rom-com (yes, it’s all of those things) delivers as a serotonin-boosting experience.
Adam (Anthony Mackie) and Jane (Zoe Chao) have been stranded in space for three years. They have self-sustaining food and oxygen but lost all communication. With no idea of when or even if they can be saved, they watch movies and hold dance parties to pass the time. Jane attempts to fix the space shuttle’s navigation and comms systems, while Adam cares for the animals and plants. One day, Adam floats an idea to Jane: what if they were to hook up? The idea permeates through their minds, and they begin to question their relationship with one another.
Mercado and his production team turn If You Were the Last into a stunning environment by embracing a lo-fi aesthetic. Exteriors of cardboard spaceships, papier-mâché planets, and playhouse walls populate their world. Stop-motion animation and gorgeous matte paintings bring an incredible array of colors into the backgrounds. An 8-Bit communication platform and UX robot adds to the adorable visuals. When our characters are in space, the images are simply amazing.
Both Mackie and Chao get multiple standout moments, and their chemistry dominates If You Were the Last. They both get a chance to deliver very funny one-liners, and Mercado finds unique ways to ensure physical proximity in nearly every frame. The dancing sequences are fun, and often very sensual. Even when they are debating embarking on romance, they give each other amateur tattoos, drapped over each other and forcing physical touch to occur. They light up when they see each other, and they play up the subtle signs one feels when they slowly fall in love. This might be one of cutest romances ever made.
Mackie gets to play up his persona, and he rocks the comedy. His ability to tell a self-depricating joke never goes to waste. He gets to be absurdly charming throughout the film as well. Where other projects have asked him to damper his personality, it shines through in every moment of If You Were the Last.
For Chao, the role gives her a broad range on the emotional spectrum. She adds warmth to the film, but also plays into the struggle she faces. As a married woman, she wants to remain faithful, and believes she knows true love. Yet at the same time, she feels scourned by Mackie at times, even hurt by things he says. As she works through the far more complicated aspects of her life and relationships, Chao answers the moments with grace and poise. It’s a remarkable performance. It also proves she can lead any romantic material, regardless of the emotional turmoil her character faces.
Another aspect that cannot be ignored is the incredible screenplay from Angela Bourassa. The world is perfectly imagined on the page, allowing Mercado to bring visual flare to every element. Yet basic things, like Mackie’s love of pop tarts, or Chao hating country music, all pay off over the course of the story. Even the small flourishes, e.g. referring to the chickens as “the girls” helps establish shorthand that benefits the story. As emotional connections to their partners, Natalie Morales and Geoff Shults wane and change, the humor remains in tact. If You Were the Last never shies away from being goofy, and many of the sequences are comedy gold.
We do not get enough romantic comedies anymore, but If You Were the Last makes a strong case for why we need more. With a strong visual palette and remarkable chemistry between its leads, Mercado’s film soars. While the last act suffers from a slight change in circumstances, Mercado utilizes the amazing soundtrack to land the proverbial plane. This one might feel lo-fi, but the execution is among the best we’ve seen in the rom-com in years.