'The Last Black Man in San Francisco' Is a Gentle Meditation on Gentrification Directed by Joe Talbot
Starring Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Finn Wittrock, Danny Glover, Thora Birch
Published Jul 05, 2019Gentrification is a topic that doesn't get nearly enough play in the film industry, perhaps because it's a world populated by gentrifiers. Even when we do get projects on the subject, it's hard for it not to feel like exhausting finger-wagging. Fortunately, sixth generation San Franciscan Joe Talbot has found the perfect balance with The Last Black Man in San Francisco, a beautiful and poetic comedy that's brimming with vitality.
Jimmie Fails — playing a fictionalized version of himself in a story he co-wrote — is obsessed with the Victorian home his grandfather built. He doesn't live there anymore, instead shacking up with his eccentric bestie Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) and Monty's visually impaired father (Danny Glover) in a dilapidated home at the edge of town. But he skateboards by the house every day, touching up its paint job and fixing the garden, much to the chagrin of its current residents.
One day, Jimmie's luck turns as the house's occupants vacate the property due to a dispute over their estate. Rather than let it sit there unoccupied, Jimmie and Monty invoke squatter's rights and move in, restoring the home to the memories of Jimmie's youth. Of course, their dream doesn't last forever.
What could've been a frustrating watch is instead an eye-opening work of art thanks to Talbot's expert direction and the film's near-lyrical dialogue. Saturated colours and a beautiful score add further life to the film's quirks, and there are as many jokes as there are lines that will leave you contemplating modern life.
Locals like Jello Biafra and Andy Roy also add a feeling of authenticity to the project. It's a work that evokes both Spikes: Lee and Jonze.
Considering this film alongside Sorry to Bother You and Blindspotting, there seems to be a micro-genre brewing about the African-American experience in the Bay Area. The Last Black Man in San Francisco just might be the best of the bunch, an effortlessly complex masterpiece and a farewell letter to a city that once was. (A24)