My Review of ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ (2019)
This movie starts with a black man shouting like an activist street performer. We are in San Francisco, by the bay, but it’s not the touristy part. Two guys are watching the shouting man, while waiting for a bus. This is our hero, Jimmy Fails, with his mentor/ally, Mont. They whip out the occasional pointed remark or two.
Eventually, they tire of waiting, and they skate. On a skateboard. Both of them. It’s awesome. Trust me.
Next thing you know, Jimmy’s puttering around, painting the trim on an old Victorian home in a much nicer part of the City by the Bay. As the actual white and likely ex-hippie owners look on in dismay. And when the wife starts throwing produce at Jimmy to get him to back off, Jimmy offers gardening advice and says the windows need caulking. You see, Jimmy is convinced this house is his. Or should be. Jimmy says his grandfather built the house all by himself with his own two hands.
That’s just a summary, and it doesn’t begin to convey the extraordinary complexity and power of this film.
It’s worth noting that the story is based, in part, on the real Jimmy Fails’ life and that Fails plays himself. His performance comes straight from the heart.
Everything about the movie — writing, music, cinematography — conveys so much at so many levels, watching it is an amazing sensory experience.
As one would expect in this city, there are soundtrack references to the Sixties and Flower Power. But the songs aren’t the original versions. The effect is one of feeling slightly off-kilter, as if to suggest that things have changed since the Summer of Love. One of those big changes, of course, would be real estate prices. And that awesome Victorian Jimmy wants ain’t cheap, folks.
However, apart from the socio-economic themes, there are even deeper issues explored in this film. Matters like friendship, dreams, realities. The inevitability of change. And hope.
Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, and Danny Glover in an embrace. A24
There are so many interesting characters and relationships in this film, I could probably write a thesis or dissertation about them. Or maybe not. Someone else.
But I’ll say this. Jimmy’s best friend, Mont (played by Jonathan Majors) uses a highly-Shakespearean device to fulfill his role as Jimmy’s mentor and guide.
Think about that.
This film is an obvious labor of love, in so many ways.
And it has the most amazing shots of a man skateboarding down a twisting San Francisco hill. Right up there with Bullitt.
* * *
Directed by Joe Talbot
Produced by Khaliah Neal, Joe Talbot, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Christina Oh
Screenplay by Joe Talbot and Rob Richert (story by Jimmy Fails and Joe Talbot)