Family history is a dependable theme for filmmakers to explore. The Last Black Man in San Francisco, however, is more about what it means to preserve that lineage. In their breakout feature film debut, filmmaker Joe Talbot and actor Jimmie Fails unpack an observational story that’s related to that, based on elements of Fails’ real-life experiences.
San Franciscan squatter Fails, playing a version of himself, goes to great measures to protect a local house that his grandfather built. When the homeowners suddenly leave, Jimmie and his right-hand man Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) act fast to claim the new property; even going as far as convincing the neighbourhood that they’re the new heirs of the house. The community is known to be predominantly white and exclusive according to Jimmie’s father (Rob Morgan), which stirs up Jimmie’s long-time need to belong. There seems to be an ongoing struggle Mont and Jimmie experience when having to include themselves within their own lives. They feel glares from strangers, and a sense of judgement from their own inner circles as well. Meanwhile, they’re resistance to indulge in misrepresented societal stereotypes like some of their peers feels like the right thing to do. This new house, they feel, could bridge them closer to who they want to be.
Apart from its thematic accessibility and its two amazing central performances, The Last Black Man in San Francisco features award-worthy technical achievements (cinematography, editing, musical score). Director Joe Talbot is very aware of these strengths, and he often flexes these to gain a level of credibility as an up-and-comer to watch out for. But eventually, the unique style becomes less transparent and lends itself to the movie; giving this fantastic film its own independence in a busy field of coming-of-age dramas.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie