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With: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock, Thora Birch, Willie Hen, Jamal Trulove, Jello Biafra
Written by: Joe Talbot, Rob Richert, based on a story by Joe Talbot, Jimmie Fails
Directed by: Joe Talbot
MPAA Rating: R for language, brief nudity and drug use
Running Time: 120
Date: 06/07/2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Astray Area

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Joe Talbot's The Last Black Man in San Francisco will surely resonate with anyone who has ever lived here while not being rich.

That's a pretty specific crowd, but fortunately the should also click with others, elsewhere. It's for anyone who appreciates a good weird comedy with plenty of left-of-center laughs, and a few daubs of poignancy as well.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco is the feature directing debut of San Franciscan Talbot, who has based the story on his friend Jimmie Fails; Fails plays a version of himself, also called Jimmie Fails.

Jimmie is currently sleeping on the floor of his best friend's place in Hunter's Point. Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) is strange, quiet, and thoughtful, an artist and playwright who wears secondhand suit clothes.

Montgomery and Jimmie watch movies on TV with Montgomery's blind grandfather (our own Danny Glover), Montgomery narrating the action. (Their movie of choice here is Rudolph Maté's 1949 San Francisco noir D.O.A.)

Jimmie, meanwhile, travels via skateboard (the bus never seems to arrive) and frequently goes to the Fillmore district to gaze upon his childhood home, a beautiful Victorian with a Witch's Hat, and to clandestinely take care of its paint and gardening needs.

He tells anyone who will listen — including Jello Biafra in a hilarious cameo — that his grandfather built the house. Jimmie lived there as a child and believes that it's still a part of his identity.

Suddenly, due to some kind of inheritance battle, the white couple who live in the house are forced to leave. Jimmie discovers that, while court battles rage, the house could likely sit empty for years. So he moves in.

If this movie were made in the 1980s, Jimmie would miraculously come into the $4 million he needs to buy the house and live there happily ever after. But, like a great many dreamers, artists, and all-around nuts that live in the City by the Bay, Jimmie will never see that much money.

More than just a house, however, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is about place in general, about how a place becomes our home, and about how impermanent it all is.

Family is, of course, an important part of home, and Jimmie's is scattered. He must travel across the bridge (to "bumf--k") to visit his aunt, and in one funny, heartbreaking scene, he runs into his mother on the bus, as if she were an old friend from college.

Movement is important to this movie, and it's a thing of beauty. As Jimmie and Montgomery skateboard around town, the camera glides through changing neighborhoods.

But pausing, taking a moment, is equally important.

In one great scene, the friends run giddily through the empty rooms of the newly-occupied house, but the camera never catches them; only their footsteps and laughter are heard as the camera rests on walls and corners and corridors.

Talbot has a Lubitsch-like pacing here, allowing humor to grow in the spaces between moments; as in Ernst Lubitsch's films, the jokes are hard to describe, but easy to get.

Overall, the movie works indirectly. It has a wistful sorrow and beauty, but rarely anger. Its themes of displacement and gentrification lurk about in the edges, but rarely in the center.

Truly, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a postcard to The City and everything it was and might be and could be, as well as everything that has gone terribly wrong. In one crucial scene, Jimmie asserts that you're not allowed to hate San Francisco unless you love it too.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray release arrives with a pretty solid transfer of a beautiful film. Hopefully more folks will get the chance to see it at home. Director Talbot provides a commentary track, and there's an 11-minute studio-produced behind-the-scenes featurette, plus a few trailers for other A24 and Lionsgate releases and a digital copy. The audio is crisp 5.1 DTS, and there are optional English and Spanish subtitles.

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