The Last Black Man In San Francisco Film Review
You don’t have to hate it unless you love it,” says third-generation San Franciscan Jimmie (Jimmie Fails). He’s on a bus, gently incensed as a pair of yuppies (one played by Thora Birch) announce that town is finished. This Sundance award-winning film, written and directed by Joe Talbot and based on his buddy Fails’s real-life experiences, uses one hand to present a middle finger to the gentrification negatively affecting black San Franciscans, and another to embrace the town’s now-displaced artists, oddballs and crumbling architecture.
Which is not to say that this is a message movie; it is an archive of the fast-changing metropolis, as recorded by two dreamers deeply protective of, and romantic about, their own hometown. The storyline centers on a majestic Victorian house in San Francisco’s historic Fillmore district, supposedly built by Jimmie’s grandfather in 1946. When the home is vacated with its white, middle-class tenants, Jimmie becomes king of his vacant castle, at home one of its stained-glass windows, dusty library and abandoned games room. It’s a welcome switch from the mattress he sleeps in his friend Montgomery’s (Jonathan Majors) packed bedroom in Hunters Point, a low-income neighbourhood built on toxic waste.
Talbot’s movie is not perfect. A scene set to Joni Mitchell’s Blue makes its point , and the narrative, such as its characters, is prone to meandering. Yet as a movie about place and private mythology, it is hugely moving. A team of local African American men serve as the story’s billed Greek chorus; Emile Mosseri’s sweeping and optimistic woodwind score likewise emphasises the film’s fable-like quality. Eccentric details, such as a mutated fish using four, gawping eyes, or a photo of this princely Jimmie looking out over a scenic road in a pair of light pink nurse’s scrubs, pleasingly bring to mind the films of Wes Anderson.