Director: Joe Talbot
Starring: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover
Release Date: June 7, 2019
Gentrification, loss, love, family — the list goes on for what The Last Black Man in San Francisco has to say about the pressure that economic despair can put on a community.
The story is centered on Jimmie Fails, who plays himself and co-wrote the script that is loosely based on his life. Jimmie is a third-generation black man in San Francisco who makes it his life’s mission to return to his childhood home. We’re led to believe that Jimmie’s grandfather built the home in 1946 with his own hands. For the last 12 years the house has been occupied by an older white couple and, when they’re not home he sneaks in, Jimmie maintains the garden and touches up the paint.
Jimmie isn’t alone in trespassing to keep up with the house, as he has the help of his best friend Montgomery. The two share a space the size of your average-sized laundry room in Montgomery’s grandfather’s home in the outskirts of the city. The two are seemingly inseparable as they wonder a city that they no longer recognize as the place they grew up in. The gentrification of the city has divided it into two clear groups: the millionaire tech gurus and the poor people who have been displaced to make room for these transplants. We see the city’s wealth spectrum in the tiny shack that Jimmy and Montgomery live in compared with the beautiful old home Jimmie so desperately seeks to get back to.
Jimmie’s obsession to reclaim his childhood home is the heart of the story. The house is more than just a nice building to him. It represents a time of stability in his life when his family was together before economic hardships split them up and they lost the house. Despite his ambitions for the house, his obsession also points to his inability to move on. At times, he wins small but he risks losing big. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that plays with your emotions and anxiety.
The theme of the film isn’t only focused on gentrification but also the complexity of the relationships between people. The two friends are regularly talked down upon by their peers and Jimmie can’t understand why Montgomery is unfazed by it. Montgomery is used as the centerpiece for pushing this message forward by regularly saying things such as “people aren’t just one thing” or “just because they’re mean to me doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate them.” His outlook is something that can be learned from and is telling of one of the many things this film has to say.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco was one of the most well received films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Making his directorial debut, Joe Talbot took home two awards at the festival, including the directing award in the dramatic category. Impressive these accolades are, it doesn’t always translate to the most engaging experience i.e. The Souvenir. Being from San Francisco, Talbot is able to show us the two extremes of a city torn by gentrification in a way only a native could. The score, cinematography, performances and a fantastic screenplay with well developed characters makes The Last Black Man in San Francisco the best film of the year thus far. It’s moving, heartbreaking and unforgettable.