There was probably a time in San Francisco when the everyman and everywoman and every-enby could make their way. But that was so long ago, nobody can remember. The dot-com world took over, of course, and the City by the Bay descended into the unaffordable at best, the downright ludicrous at worst; a recent study found that median rent cost had surpassed $3,500.
But what of the natives and the non-tech folk? The people of color and the middle and lower classes? They're shoved further away from the heart of San Francisco daily, if they can stay at all, and freshman filmmakers Jimmie Fails and Joe Talbot have a thing or two to say about that.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is like a love/hate letter to the city from Fails and Talbot, both natives of the area. Their version of their hometown is long since gone, however, replaced by newcomers with more money than heart and a rapidly changing energy that is unrecognizable to its most steadfast denizens. Fails basically plays himself, a young man living with his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors, White Boy Rick) and his grandfather (Danny Glover) on the outskirts of the Bay. He longs to reclaim the one-time family home, a massive Victorian purportedly built by his grandfather in the 1940s and lost in the '90s. With his family scattered, he and Mont visit the house regularly, touching up the paint, making plans to clean the garden and, when it winds up vacated, squatting inside and reclaiming the space.
Fails and Talbots' script is smart and subtle in its exposing of hard realities. There is no preaching or beating of the chest here; rather, the things that happen happen quietly, without fanfare, like the events of our own real lives. It is not fantastical or overwrought, instead clever and nuanced, particularly with Mont, a gentle soul, playwright and artist who'd follow Jimmie to the ends of the earth if he asked. Fails impresses as well with his tender portrayal of a dreamer type whose priorities were skewed so long ago, he can barely remember why he made them. Peripheral characters provide context and motive, but without feeling relegated to expositional devices; each plays a vital part, each represents another endangered part of the city.
It all works to a heartbreaking head that won't be spoiled here, but the overall message rings true enough for anyone from any place: People aren't one thing, and we should never place our faith or identities into a single house, profession, box; maybe we need to leave the debris behind to make room for something truly amazing.
+Fails and Majors impress; the music
-Not for the impatient; some pointless moments
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Directed by Talbot
With Fails, Majors and Glover
Violet Crown, R, 120 min.