User ReviewsReview this title
The plot follows a man named Jimmie, whose grandfather built a house in San Francisco on land he purchased during World War II. Today, Jimmie wishes to live in this spacious Victorian house, but its market value has skyrocketed due to gentrification of the neighborhood (and nearby neighborhoods) near where it is located. He begins to develop a scheme with his best friend to move into the house. The film's cinematography is exceptional, and manages to juxtapose both realism and romanticism in terms of how it depicts both the ideals and the realities of San Francisco residents today. Some of the film's shots may remind viewers of Spike Lee's early films, but the film's aesthetic always feels wholly original at the end of the day. The film also uses a variety of other visual and narrative tricks, such as a tableaux vivant-style scene, to help convey the points it is trying to make on how gentrification is affecting relationships between people in urban areas today, much less exacerbating social inequality. The film's simple score is beautiful and almost haunting at times in terms of its elegance and emotional power. The performances in the film are generally strong, as the almost laid-back method acting of the two leads is thoughtful and impactful in its sheer simplicity.
Despite the film's clear achievements on a technical and narrative level that intersects strong performances with aesthetics, "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" isn't perfect. The film doesn't have too many key plot points, which would normally be okay given the film's understated tone. However, the film does feel rather drawn-out in that the narrative doesn't always impact even scenes in which the director is trying to promote substance over style. The narrative's climax is also a bit disappointing. It lacks a clear transition both preceding it and after it, and doesn't quite pack the impact on a viewer in which a film's climax should. That said, the ending is generally satisfying. Also, the film's social commentary is a bit of a mixed bag in that it shows the ways in which gentrification has affected San Francisco--yet it manages to reduce supporting characters both benefitting from and greatly harmed by gentrification to almost caricatures. As a result, the film's messaging on the perils of gentrification in cities comes up just a little short, and clearly falls below the effectiveness of social commentary in films like "Get Out." That said, there's definitely plenty to like about this indie drama. Generally recommended. 7/10
I'm going to rewatch it when it comes out on streaming and maybe I'll feel different them. As of right now, however, I think this is an extremely unfocused film and somewhat of a long watch.
The trailer promises visual beauty and the film delivers, coming as close as a movie can to diagramming the cool, foggy spell San Francisco can cast - but the images on the screen are there to both break a heart and to inspire hope.
And man, are these images beautiful! This movie is a natural addition to the ranks of "Vertigo," "Bullitt," "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "Tales of the City" - movies that lean on SF as more than a backdrop, but indeed as a co-star. It all works to underscore why the hero (Jimmie Fails, playing himself) is so compulsively distracted by, even focused on, his unsettled business with his hometown. Set to a dreamy score by Emile Mosseri and Michael Marshall's cover of "If You're Going to San Francisco," there are moments in the movie that well up and stir; that are flat out unforgettable.
Obviously, the movie takes place in San Francisco. I don't want to attempt to say what it was about because I'm sure I'll be wrong. Rather, I'll say what I think it was about.
The two main characters were Jimmie Fails playing Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors playing Montgomery Allen. I recognized Jonathan Majors from a movie earlier this year titled Captive State. They were two odd friends. I say odd because I couldn't understand them. I didn't understand their actions, their emotions, their motivations, nothing. Jimmie was grim, deadpanned guy obsessed with an old Victorian home that he used to live in on Golden Gate. Even though it was occupied he would go there and touch up the paint and other chores. Montgomery (Mont) was an artist that just tagged along with Jimmie. Mont drew and he was perpetually working on a play. A play he'd eventually finish and make him an even weirder guy.
The two of them thought they had it made when the Victorian house was vacated. Now they could squat there and claim it as there own. That, or come up with the $4 million it would cost to buy it.
That's as much as I gathered from the movie as far as a plot. There were other side stories that gave more insight to these two main characters but the side stories also made the two main characters more enigmatic. The movie started slow and ended slower. I was patient with it because I can be patient with a movie and allow it to develop. What developed was nothing worth waiting for. Heck, one couple, maybe smarter than myself, left midway through. That exiting couple was a third of the audience.
Without being overly critical I'm just going to call it too artsy for me. This was one of those movies where just about everything had to be inferred and interpreted. Even the main conflict-if there was one-was nebulous. I don't need to be spoon fed but I don't feel like staring at abstract art either.
To me it was all too strange. Their friendship was strange, their daily routine was strange, it was strange how Mont just stared at the four regular locals as they hung out, it was strange to show some random old white guy plopping down at the bus stop fully nude, and Jimmie's obsession with his old house was strange. I mean, I have fondness for the place I grew up but that's where it stops. We live in a place, sometimes we lose that place or we just move on, then that place is just a memory. Maybe, if we had fond enough memories and the ability, we try to purchase that old home. That's as far as that fondness should ever go.
The only bright spots of the movie were the appearances of known actors. Mike Epps' brief spot was funny. Tichina Arnold and Danny Glover only provided a familiar face because they certainly didn't provide any credibility. To their defense, it was nothing they could do. This movie may have wowed some but I'd have to ask why.
I'll end with a quote from the movie that only summed up how odd it all was. There was a scene where Jimmie is riding the bus and these two women were discussing their disdain with San Francisco. They weren't conservatives at all by the looks of them, they just didn't like the city for whatever reason they mentioned. Upon hearing that, Jimmie Fails says, "You can't hate San Francisco."
One woman responds, "I can hate whatever the (expletive) I want to hate."
Jimmie asks, "Do you love it? Because you can only hate it if you love it."
What!?! That's it, I'm done.
Jimmie (Jimmie Fails), finding it hard to cope with the fact that the house his grandfather built may be taken away from him, leaving him with nothing, takes it upon himself to find a way to hold onto it. That's the core premise of the movie and with a strong friendship between Jimmie and Montgomery as the backbone of the dramatic aspects, this is a film that places its main character front and center. With a well fleshed out character that has me engaged from start to finish, you've already won me over, but there is so much more to love and admire here.
Adam Newport-Berra is at the helm as the film's cinematographer and I truly believe this has set the standard for the year. I would be absolutely shocked if he doesn't receive a nomination for his work in the coming months. On top of that, being director Joe talbot's first feature film to be released, it goes without saying that he is a filmmaker that's here to stay and I am giving an early prediction that, if not this year, there will be an awards season in the coming years that consistently rave about something he has done. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is littered with talent from top to bottom.
This movie would be a technical achievement in independent cinema regardless of the material being shown on-screen, but the fact that these technical aspects are buoyed by a central performance that truly moved me was another level of special. Actor Jimmie Fails plays a character by the exact same name and there may be personal influences that helped his performance here, but a great performance is a great performance nonetheless and he delivers one of the best I've seen all year so far.
In the end, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a film that takes its time in setting up the scenarios at hand, dives deep, and eventually delivers a very touching conclusion that had me totally invested. With superb direction, camerawork that deserves many awards, a score that soothes the mind as you're watching, and a core performance that elevates the already great material, this is a film that surely can't be missed. This is one of the very best movies I've seen all year.
Winner of the Directing Award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, the film opens as two men, Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and his best friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors, "Out of Blue") wait impatiently for a bus to take them to the city as a droning preacher (Willie Hen) stands on a soapbox shouting "Remember your truth in the city of façades." It is a message that reverberates throughout the film. Mont and Jimmy are headed to an old Victorian home on Golden Gate Avenue which Jimmie claims his grandfather built in 1946. The house, in what used to be a working class neighborhood, was lost by his father James Sr. (Rob Morgan, "Mudbound") in the 90s and Jimmie is obsessed with getting it back.
With pride, Fails claims that his grandfather was the first black man in San Francisco. Though this is little more than an urban legend, it provides him with a rationale for what he thinks is his historical claim to the house. Much to the chagrin of the older white woman (Maximilienne Ewalt, "Sense8" TV series) who owns the house, Jimmie often comes to touch up the paint on the windows and take care of the lawn but has to duck the fruit the owner throws at him while demanding that he leave the premises. The taciturn Jimmie works part-time as a nursing home attendant and Mont works at a fish market though he is also an artist, writer, and playwright.
Sadly, Jimmie's family is scattered and he has no home. He sleeps on the floor of Mont's house and, in an evening of warmth and friendship, they are shown watching the 1949 San Francisco film noir "D.O.A." on TV together as Montgomery narrates for his blind grandfather (Danny Glover, "The Old Man & the Gun"). Across the street from Mont's house, a group of young macho studs taunt the two friends presumably for their lack of "toughness," but it later becomes clear that much of it is posturing. In two striking scenes, Jimmie travels across the bridge to have some reflective conversations with his Aunt Wanda (Tichina Arnold, "Wild Hogs"), and in a funny but heartbreaking encounter, runs into his mother on the bus but their reunion is as uninvolved as it is fleeting.
To underscore the sense of displacement, Bobby (Mike Epps, "Resident Evil: Extinction"), a friend of James Sr., lives in Jimmie's dad's old car and insists on giving the two friends a ride into town which they reluctantly accept. In a scene that typifies the old spirit of San Francisco, Fails sits on a bench and is joined by a completely nude, older man (David Usner, "Roxie"), a scenario that scarcely raises an eyebrow with the exception of some rowdies passing on a tour bus. Things turn when the current owner of the old Victorian dies and it looks as if a legal dispute will tie up ownership rights for some time.
Acting quickly, after a real estate broker tells them the house would cost four million dollars to buy, they transport the family's old furniture, mostly still in good condition, into the mansion and move in as squatters. Though Jimmie still follows his dream, he knows that trying to recreate the house as he remembers it is a delusion, a fact he is forcefully reminded of by Mont in a play performed before a small audience in a corner of the old house. The Last Black Man in San Francisco captures the bonds of love and friendship that exist between people, bonds that transcend the changes brought by social and economic dislocation.
To put it in perspective, Reverend Danny Nemu once said, "Some mourn as their edifices crumble; but for the open-eyed and uninvested, all that is lost is that which lies between them and deeper understanding." Talking about his relationship with Mont, Fails agrees, "All I want is for friendships like ours to be able to exist," he says, "and that doesn't exist in the new San Francisco. That's really what it's about, getting back to that point where artists and outsiders can live there. Where weirdos who didn't feel accepted could come because that's what it used to be about. That's the best San Francisco in my eyes." It is the idea of San Francisco The Last Black Man in San Francisco lovingly conveys.
What it does is provide amazing cinematography. Beautiful scenes as if from a well crafted classic play. Great subtle gentle acting with interesting amd unique characters. It touches on many subjects through the scenes sprinkled liberally throughout, but in a novel and artistic way. This film is definitely art. Is it a good story? Well, some bits build to beautiful moments. I adored the relationship between the two main characters (male friends). So sweet, gentle. Makes you want to hug them. I want to watch this film again, even though at times I was on the edge of boredom. But damn, it's a beautiful film.
This deserves to be a classic, due to its uniqueness. The writer and director is clearly intelligent and creative beyond what I could aspire to, but the film isn't haughty. It's simple, solid, with emotion, friendship, love, loss, a yearning for meaning and fitting in. Of course it touches on race relations and black poverty, but in a way completely off centre to most approaches. I loved this film.
Do I recommend it? It will be like savouring a fine wine on an evening. For many, it will be fulfilling, touching, deep and profound. But some people don't like wine. Those that want action/love story/radical race politics, won't find it here.