Published on July 24th, 2019 | by Dan Nicholls0
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
In a summer stuffed with senseless sequels, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, from Joe Talbot and Jimmie Falls, feels like a cinematic vacation.
Some things are universal regardless of the location you were raised, currently reside, or dream of moving to. If you’ve spent any real time in a place to the point you called it “home” then you know the love and the hate that wrestles in your heart after putting down roots anywhere. The astounding feature film debut by director Joe Talbot is a soulful yearning for the places, people, and moments gone past that haunt us still.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco’s story was developed by Talbot and the film’s star, Jimmie Fails; the actor lends his talents and his name to his character, loosely dramatizing his own personal story. Their combined talent is immense. Talbot gently weaves a brushstroke that deftly draws the city he and Fails so dearly cherish.
Jimmie and his best friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors, in a breathtaking performance) skateboard across their home city on regular visits to a beautiful old house they voluntarily maintain. Jimmie grew up in it, before his father’s addictions caused the family to lose everything, and his grandfather allegedly was the one who built the house in 1946. Jimmie’s lost everything – he was living in a car before sleeping on a floor in the home Montgomery shares with his grandfather, his father carries around too much anger, and his mother isn’t a factor in his life at all. This house is more than just shelter for Jimmie.
The house’s current occupants leave and Jimmie jumps at the chance to stake a claim on it as his very own. It’s glorified squatting but it’s the life of a king for him. He finally has his castle back and nothing can nip at his glow, until the harsh realities of society creep in to spoil things.
As Jimmie reckons with his past by trying to recreate it in the present, Montgomery observes obediently from his friend’s side, collecting bits and pieces to form into a stage play. They lament and occasionally rage against the gentrification that has spread over San Francisco like a plague (a dash of fantasy is tossed in with a nuclear rotting bay producing mutated fish). As the inevitability of eviction approaches they inch towards a fight or flight moment.
Chipped paint, scuffed wood, and dusty sunbeams through stained glass windows. Are the things that make a building a house the same that make a house a home? Montgomery believes that home is where your heart is, but Jimmie can’t let the house go. When Montgomery finally performs his one-man play, he brings the walls crashing down while leaving the air between them clear of dust. Sorting out the baggage in the basement leaves them both with new perspectives to pursue.
In a summer stuffed with senseless sequels, San Francisco feels like a pure cinematic vacation. It’s a title that will need to be sought out but will reap rewards for your effort. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a deeply affecting, heartfelt, and emotional film sonnet for sensitive souls.