Positive Affirmation In Despair: Our Review of ‘The Last Black Man In San Francisco’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - July 05, 2019
Positive Affirmation In Despair: Our Review of ‘The Last Black Man In San Francisco’

It’s a little weird that a story taking place in many cities across the globe can actually be really sweet and kind of life affirming all at the same time.

While on one end, The Last Black Man in San Francisco has some harrowing elements to it all given the wave of gentrification that is killing so many communities inside larger cities across the globe, it’s also this tender ode to friendship, not buying into the need  for commerce and stuff while trying to follow your bliss to make the world a better place.

Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind. As he struggles to reconnect with his family and reconstruct the community he longs for, his hopes blind him to the reality of his situation.

With heavy autobiographical undertones for writer and star Jimmie Fails, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is ultimately an ode to home and the struggle to keep that meaning of it in our minds and in our hearts with an every evolving global landscape forming in front of us that simply has no time for such things.  It all makes for an immersive ode that takes us out of time and place and allows us to focus on the people inside those places and times which make them so special in the first place.

It’s hard to deny the similarities to Barry Jenkins’ Medicine For Melancholy here but writer/director Joe Talbot and co-writer and star Jimmie Falls are truly crafting a modern day folk tale of a young prince trying to reclaim his kingdom and setting in the modern frame.  Even though the city is an obvious back drop, Talbot has crafted a truly beautiful film that really manages to feel transformative as we watch and he evokes subtle visual memories seen in film by Godard and Terry Gilliam, wrapped up in a blanket of Hal Ashby sensibilities.

We certainly do feel and emote with the issues of gentrification that come up in the film but that really does play much more in the background as this is a film that truly is pushing back in the face of toxic masculinity that we see so rampant among many cultures and classes in the world today.  It’s a truly humanistic story that shines through in part thanks to a very evocative musical score by composer Emile Mosseri and even as we feel the city waging war against some of its more vulnerable residents, the landscape and how these characters are ingrained with the life blood of this metropolis is simply unshakable.  The entire film is a moment of love and joy while staring down the face of a behemoth telling you to let go of those two beautiful thing and is a near master class in storytelling that feels more grandiose and even operatic then its budget implies.

You can’t really judge Jimmie Fails as an actor because this is only the second on screen credit he’s ever had and he’s essentially played himself both times.  While there’s an undeniable rigidness to his performance as an actor, it actually accentuates the piece as a whole.  He’s supposed to be awkward as a displaced member of a community and there’s no denying that he has a genuine and undeniable screen presence.  Jonathan Majors is a real anchor here as his friend Montgomery and he carries the  bulk of the emotional work as Jimmie’s character is stuck in his own worlds.  It’s up to Montgomery to always be his friend even in the face of some very difficult circumstances.  Both men had great chemistry and it all makes for a lovely cinematic example of genuine male friendship, where they are open with each other and not falling into any typical expectations of a story like this one.

While Jimmie and Jonathan carry the bulk of the film there’s some really great supporting work put in by the likes of Mike Epps, rolling around the streets angry and suspicious of everyone while Danny Glover is the rock for both of these men in the mere simply fact that he owns a house that they can sleep at.

Certainly the social and political issues in The Last Black Man in San Francisco are things that people will latch on to, it’s the fraternal bond of a beautiful friendship and how radical it actually makes us feel while watching it is the much more emotionally poignant point we’ve pulled out of this brilliant piece of cinema.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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