Movie Review: 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco'

Opens in theaters June 21st

June 20, 2019

JUNE 03: Actor Jimmie Fails attends the special screening of "The Last Black Man In San Francisco" at the Vista Theatre on June 03, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)

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“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is about home - the idea, the reality, the promise.

Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) has lived in cars and group homes, he has swindled and squatted in spaces throughout San Francisco. He is currently crashing on his best friend’s bedroom floor, but Jimmie is not homeless. He has a home, even if he’s not living in it. He’s maintaining it, even if he’s not benefitting from it.

The Victorian that Jimmie’s grandfather built in the 1940s (yes, the 1940s) is white with red and gold trim. She rises, distinguished, from an overgrown garden, her witch hat reaching up to pierce the San Francisco sky. It doesn’t matter that Jimmie’s father lost the home in the ’90s or that a croissant-throwing, hippie (see yuppie) now shelters beneath her roof. This is Jimmie’s home, and he returns to it over and over again, with rake and shovel to tend the garden, with brush and paint to repair the trim. We watch him peer through age-fogged windows agonizing over peeling wall-paper and worrying that the new tenants are letting her fall into disrepair.

When the Victorian that Jimmie calls home becomes suddenly vacant, there’s no hesitation. Jimmie moves with purpose to reclaim what is his. Relationships are resurrected, friendships are tested, relics are unearthed and turf battles are fought, all along the gentrified streets of San Francisco.

Jimmie’s obsession with his family home wouldn’t be possible without the help of his best friend and enabler, Mont (Jonathan Majors.) The relationship is not one we’re used to seeing between two straight men on-screen, and especially not between two straight black men. The intimacy is palpable - they share a room, they unabashedly share hopes and dreams, they ride tandem on Jimmie’s skateboard, they hug each other. It feels pure, like the kind of friendships children cultivate before inhibited, self-conscious adulthood sets in.

Each character interaction is intense and meaningful. Throughout the movie, we watch Jimmie and Mont navigate relationships. Along the way, we meet Jimmie’s dad (difficult, cunning), and Jimmies mom (an apparition), Jimmie’s aunt (forced out of the city by gentrification and gatekeeper of familial relics), Mont’s blind grandpa (loving and wise.)

Haunting the sidewalk outside of Mont’s grandpa’s house, the neighborhood clique spend their time flexing on and clowning on Jimmie, Mont and each other.

If the house is the heart of the movie, the relationships are the soul, and each scene an invitation to soul search.

The “Last Black Man in San Francisco” moves with ease, distracts with details, and blinds with beauty. There’s a feeling that not much has happened, when in reality, so much has. It’s like moving through a dream, one that sails from suburb to city, from future to past, across generations, cultural divides, and stereotypes towards an inevitable collision. In the end, it leaves you asking: what is home, and who has the right to call it that?

Directed by Joe Talbot, starring Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold, and Danny Glover, winner of Sundance Directing Award and U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award. Catch the movie when it lands at a theater near you on June 21st.