THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO: FILM REVIEW
At a glance, The Last Black Man in San Francisco tells the story of a man named Jimmie and his friend Mont, who try to reclaim an old Victorian-style house built by Jimmie’s grandfather before he was born. When Jimmie and Mont find out the owners of the house have moved out, they do everything in their power to move in and make it their own.The film is loosely based on the childhood friendship between director Joe Talbot and lead actor Jimmie Fails, who plays himself.
The beautiful shots of San Francisco makes the film a celebration of the city, as much as a critique. With its winding hills and colorful houses, its richness extends far beyond the reaches of the Golden Gate bridge. However, like any other major city, San Francisco is plagued by the issue of gentrification, as the city is slowly stripped of its immigrant roots and painted with white millennials.
The film’s adventure is weaved through an intimate friendship in which Mont and Jimmie would go to the ends of the earth for each other. Jimmie’s longing to reclaim this house, which he lived in when he was very young, drives the film, taking it to surreal lengths. On occasion, a fish with three eyes flies out of the water, or a man leans out of the trolley shouting “This guy fucks!” Surreal elements and comedic timing often go hand in hand, as the current owners of the house are aware of Jimmie’s presence. Him and Mont frequently touch up the home when its residents are out of the house, and small croissants are thrown their way when its residents come back to Jimmie repainting a layer of red on their window sills. The contrast between the neighborhood that Mont and Jimmie live in and that of the Victorian home is striking. In fact, Jimmie doesn’t even have a home; he crashes at Mont’s grandpa’s place.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is ultimately a story about property. As Bobby, a guy who stole Jimmie’s dad’s car, says, “Cause see Jimmie, you never really own shit. This car ain’t mine, but it never was yours.” Much like Jimmie’s style of residence, property can be picked up, left behind, but presumably never really owned.
This film shines, largely due to the lovability of its characters. Jimmie, although sometimes delusional, has a powerful will to change the course of his life through the ownership of the only place he can see himself calling home. Mont is the sweetest of friends, as he follows Jimmie through every twist and turn, all while simultaneously writing a play and documenting their day-to-day in his red sketchbook. The two are oddballs in their own neighborhood, often ridiculed by a local friend group who struggle to understand the inseparability of Jimmie and Mont.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is one of the best films I’ve seen in awhile, not only because of its narrative storyline, but also because of the vibrant colors that compose every shot; be aware of the warm red that appears throughout the film. Despite the hardships that the city induces for Jimmie and Mont, the film's main thesis is shaped by what Jimmie says to a girl on the bus, “You don’t get to hate San Francisco. You don’t get to hate it unless you love it.”
**The Last Black Man in San Francisco is available to stream on Amazon Prime.