July 9, 2019

SCREEN | 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco' Finds A Home

"People aren't just one thing."
Jimmie Fails Jonathan Majors Joe Talbot | The Last Black Man in San Francisco

First-time filmmaker Joe Talbot has made such a deeply soulful family drama about a man's place in a world he no longer feels he belongs to in loosely fictionalizing a version of star and real-life childhood friend Jimmie H. Fails IV's personal history. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a beautiful story Talbot and Fails have been trying to make for years about Fails (who plays himself) and his attachment to his childhood home.

Centred on the sweet friendship of Jimmie and Montgomery (a sensitive Jonathan Majors), the arthouse film is an ode to San Francisco, its inherent beauty, idealism, societal ills, and gentrification. The pair, their families, and neighbours express their love of the city with tempered optimism.

Co-written by Talbot and Rob Richert, Last Black Man feels like a stage play set on the streets in and around Talbot's version of SF focused on the palatial Victorian mansion in the historically black Fillmore District, formerly the "Harlem of the West". Fail's lost home represents a lost kingdom and opportunities the privileged have taken away from the marginalized over the years.

Jimmie Fails Jonathan Majors Joe Talbot | The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra's lush photography frames the city, its characters, and landscape as a series of portraits. The film impressively combines its imagery, residents, and story to capture the elegiac nature of San Francisco's artistry.

What Talbot captures so wonderfully in Fails and Majors' performances is how they feel like outsiders in their own home. Half the film is a wondrous journey of situational prose. Unfortunately, Talbot's ambition makes the third act feel overstuffed as the story tries to fit in too many aspects while maintaining its languid, dreamy quality.

Talbot and Fails' nostalgic story of revisiting your past and exploring what one's home means is a stunning debut work of art. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a poetic film that's both a loving tribute and skewing dissection of a city changing. You can feel how it's a story its authors have been trying to tell for a long time and hard to believe it could be a debut feature.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco screens exclusively at The Park Theatre starting July 12th.

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