For all of his blockbuster bonafides, Anthony Mackie’s magnetism has always been best deployed in smaller films, particularly of the rom-com genre. For Zoe Chao, her transition from surly best friend roles to undeniable queen of the rom-com has been an enjoyable ride, and it hits an atmospheric high with If You Were the Last. This low-fi screwball charmer burns hot with Mackie and Chao’s instant chemistry, making this one film that shouldn’t be missed on Peacock.
The premise is so simple, and so delightfully free from big-budget excess. Chao and Mackie play Adam and Jane, astronauts on a NASA shuttle lost in deep space with little hope of rescue. It’s been this way for three years, and the two have managed to make the best of it. She keeps trying to fix the comms and navigation system in hopes of saving themselves; while he is okay trusting in fate. They dance, watch movies (he keeps avoiding Die Hard, she hates Casablanca), listen to music, tend the chickens and pet goat, occasionally chat with the corpse of their dead colleague (that’s a long story); but in general they seem happy going out on their own terms.
There’s just one problem. Three years into this mission and…well, how in the Hell can two people this unbelievably attractive keep their hands off of one another? We all know that men and women can’t just be friends, right? Adam addresses the elephant in the room, saying that sex for him is a stress reliever, but for her it’s more meaningful than that. The bulk of the film is a cute sparring match as Adam and Jane debate taking their relationship to a physical level. There are obvious problems with it, like the prospect of getting pregnant, but also…well, they have spouses (played by Natalie Morales and Geoff Stults) on Earth. But after more than 1000 days, are their spouses still waiting for them? Does marriage mean anything given their predicament?
Refreshingly, If You Were the Last isn’t about Jane and Adam bangin’ their way up and down the spaceship. It is an exploration of heterosexual male and female relationships in times of crisis. And what we see is that when things get tough, both do the little things to help the other get through it. And it’s through those not-so-little gestures that the question about meangingless, stress-relieving sex answers itself. These two are obviously meant to be more than just each other’s fuck buddies. But that doesn’t become an option until they are faced with the reality of returning home, back to their normal lives and away from one another. Is that what they truly want?
Crisp, snappy banter keeps this little 90-minute gem moving along nicely, with Mackie and Chao looking so comfortable you’d think they’d done a dozen movies together already. We see them dancing, singing, cuddling, and being the emotional support the other needs. In one roller coaster emotional scene, Jane’s beloved tape deck breaks. Faced with the prospect of never hearing her favorite music again, she utterly breaks down. Enter Adam, who recognizes the gravity of the moment instantly, and regales her with a rendition of her favorite song, Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long”.
Throughout, the film has a lovely, cleverly DIY production design ala Michel Gondry, using handcrafted, playful effects to capture the planets as they soar by. Credit to director Kristian Mercado for leaning into the whimiscal aesthetic. Technical jargon is met by displays that look like they were built out of Fisher-Price toy sets, and it’s absolutely perfect in setting a surreal tone. Because a story like this should feel like a dream, it does hit a drag when back on Earth and real life intercedes. But even then, it all serves to make us want to see Jane and Adam return to the happiness they had while in the stars. Mackie and Chao are lightyears ahead of everyone else at this, and together they make If You Were the Last an out-of-this-world rom-com experience.
If You Were the Last is streaming now on Peacock.