The stories we tell ourselves and to others define the way we understand the world, and The Last Black Man in San Francisco uses this ever-changing mythos to expertly evoke an ever-changing city. Based on the half-true narratives woven by its cast and crew, Jimmie (Fails) is at the centre of a family on the edge. He compulsively, painstakingly cares for the magnificent Victorian-styled house his grandfather built in the heart of historic downtown – much to the consternation of the current owners – and when it appears to have been lost in an estate sale he and his best friend Mont (Majors) make a move into its abandoned splendour. And from there the plot emerges.
The style and pacing of Joe Talbot’s debut feature may not work for all – the deliberateness of each may skew towards manufactured. However, it also brings out a beauty and wonder in the mundane, which in turn highlights the quasi-operatic tragedy of gentrification’s dehumanisation. The storytelling, on the other hand, emphasises the everyday. As Jimmie and Mont lovingly rehabilitate their new home, there is no view towards what is to come. Granted, some of what follows is expected from such an arc, but the present is allowed to simply be – and viewers are allowed to relish it – instead of rushing the plot towards the next consequence. Underneath this luxurious storytelling, Talbot is unafraid to let his camera linger on his actor’s faces, letting emotional beats land. Here, the understated performances bring substance to the film’s style.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a clear labour of love, a testament to the city that brutally shapes its unfailingly gentle inhabitants. Its overarching kindness, precise visual style, and unwillingness to settle for easy answers will stick in the mind and heart long after its soaring score concludes.
CAST: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold, Mike Epps
DIRECTOR: Joe Talbot
WRITERS: Joe Talbot, Jimmie Fails, Rob Richert
SYNOPSIS: When the house his grandfather built goes on the market, Jimmie Fails and his best friend Mont seek to reclaim the former’s family prize.