The Last Black Man in San Francisco aims to be an inventive meditation on art, architecture, black culture and gentrification in California’s Bay Area.
Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) dreams of reclaiming the beautiful late 19th century home his grandfather built in the heart of the city, before harder times and changing demographics forced his family out.
He and best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors) scheme to make this happen while Jimmie annoys the sitting tenants with guerrilla gardening on the beloved Fillmore house.
A skateboarder and dreamy, suit-wearing playwright, the pair are at odds with the tough guys around the neighbourhood and spend their time working to deliver Jimmie’s dream while living with Mont’s grandfather (Danny Glover).
“There’s no place like home”, says Mont and the film deeply explores what can really be defined as ‘home’.
As such, there are questions and ideologies that formate with ‘identity’, in a more profound level… Where it compels society to view people beyond boxes.
There is a distinction between the types of people who have moved on with time whilst there are those who are trying to maintain traditions.
To depict this, director Joe Talbot adapts some visually enriched shots.
For instance, a wide shot of a tram going up a high, steep hill with a man skating down the hill establishes the overall juxtaposition of time.
Even though Jimmie and Mont are not the sole Black American characters, they seem to be the most compassionate about their lineages.
The opening sequence where both the protagonists skate across the city, observing the odd stares from people, makes them seem like complete strangers in their own home.
Talbot humanises the house and it almost seems like an additional and instrumental character that is a testament to the changing times.
For Jimmie, that building is a place of solace, given that he comes from a broken family. Subsequently, it also forms the escapism for a ‘perfect’ life.
Furthermore, Jimmie’s dream of reclaiming the house is also like a lifeline because it provides him with an objective in life… Keeping him away from street crime.
Symbolism is not solely limited to the antique house. The skateboard too is metaphoric of change.
During an era, where electronic segway are trending and being used, Jimmie uses the skateboard as his frequent transport.
This itself represents how he embraced and accepted the past, by fusing the past with the present.
In fact, his wandering persona almost seems like that of a vagabond, in search of a better life and his identity.
Despite the narrative set in 2019, there is minimal references/use of technology which exudes a timeless tone to the film.
Such allegories are topped by the picturesque cinematography and a visually poetic but yet realistic depiction of San Francisco.
The light humour is in-tune with the film’s overall poignancy… In a way, the comedy becomes quite satirical and Talbot gets the balance right.
Performances of both Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors are excellent. Both of them are effortless actors who dominate the screen with such prowess.
Fails’ character is quite challenging. It is an abstract and layered role which he fulfils sensitively.
He avoids any melodramatic reactions and is natural in the role. Potentially an Oscar-worthy performance.
Majors is on par with Fails and he nails it as the supporting friend and aspiring playwright. A scene where he performs a solo play is the highlight of the film.
In addition, is refreshing to see a simple, amiable, heterosexual friendship that is not indulgent in lad culture.
Thankfully, there are no unnecessary love interests or angles included to digress the pure friendship story.
Moreover, it is reassuring to see that we do not just see a gritty and ghetto lifestyles of the Black American community.
As such, the movie steers away from stereotypes and concentrates wholly on human emotions and visual aesthetics.
Having said that, the duration of 120 minutes seems slightly lengthy for what the film tries to convey and the slow pace only contributes towards longevity.
A sharper edit and run-time of 90 minutes would’ve made the movie more succinct and precise.
However, in comparison to all the other tropes, this glitch can be easily overlooked.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is an artistic and thought-provoking love letter to the City, topped with excellent performances.
In his directorial debut, Joe Talbot proves his knack for convoluted storytelling as well as an extraordinary vision.
The movie is emblematic of several relatable life themes to such an extent that it transcends celluloid and stays with us, even after the credits roll. A MUST watch!
⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars)