Last Black Man in San Francisco, The (2019): Joe Talbot’s Ravishing Feature Debut

Joe Talbot makes a ravishing feature directorial debut with The Last Black Man in San Francisco, based on a screenplay by Talbot and Richert and a story by Talbot and Jimmie Fails, whose life inspired the tale.

The unpredictable tale centers on the efforts of one resilient and sensitive African-American to reclaim his childhood home, a Victorian house in the Fillmore District.

World premiering at the Sundance Film Fest, where it won Best Directing Awards and a Special Jury Prize for Creative Collaboration, the movie was released by A24 to appreciative reviews.

Jimmie Fails, a young man living in Bayview-Hunters Point, wanders around town with best friend Montgomery “Mont” Allen.  The two observe with sadness the inevitable changes in the city. They then ride to a Victorian house in the city’s Fillmore District that Jimmie grew up in and was built by his grandfather.

The home is currently occupied by an older couple. Later, a local realtor informs them that the woman’s mother had died and now she and her sister are fighting over the house. They use this opportunity to visit and explore the now vacant house.  Jimmie’s aunt Wanda gives them the house’s older interior decorations and they proudly display them there.

Revelations are made about Jimmie’s father’s violent reaction to being called “feminine” by his friends. Then, the pair’s possessions are thrown out of the house. Feeling betrayed, Jimmie fights back by putting all of it back in. The realtor then discloses that the house wasn’t built by Jimmie’s grandfather, but in the 1850s.

Mont writes a play about the events, and when it is performed, Jimmie’s estranged father shows up.  Mont reveals to Jimmie that his grandfather didn’t build the home, leaving him shocked.

Jimmie watches TV with Mont and Grandpa Allen before going to bed. When Mont wakes up, Jimmie gone, leaving a note of gratitude to Mont for being his best friend.  Left alone, Mont watches as Jimmie is rowing outside the Golden Gate Bridge.

Though the story is personal and particular, it resonates with many viewers who can relate to inescapable changes in their neighborhood, memories of the houses in which they lived and grow up, friendly sites that are now demolished and rebuilt, and so on.  In this respect, the movie is an exultant ode to cities that are in perpetual flux in both positive and negative ways.

The narrative feels fresh in its structure–you never know what will happened next–and it’s rich enough in poignant insights about male friendship, the meaning of home, and the emotional price we pay for circumstances that are beyond our control.

Stylistically too, though it’s a first film, The Last Black Man in San Francisco boasts the sort of visual poetry that goes beyond its realistic mode.  The last reel, which is particularly touching with its series of secrets and revelations, leaves you with some lingering haunting images.

Credits:

Directed by Joe Talbot
Produced by Khaliah Neal, Joe Talbot, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Brad Pitt, Christina Oh
Screenplay by Joe Talbot and Rob Richert
Story by Jimmie Fails, Joe Talbot
Music by Emile Mosseri
Cinematography: Adam Newport-Berra
Edited by David Marks
Produced by Plan B Entertainment and Longshot Features
Distributed by A24
Release date: June 7, 2019
Running time: 120 minutes