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Sunday 3 November 2019 4:00 pm
Rainbow Theatre, Northumberland Mall, Cobourg

The last Black Man in San FranciscoJimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind.
Each scene in this movie is thoroughly orchestrated, nothing is rushed in this film. Nuanced themes are pervasive throughout this visually beautiful movie. It is a masterful portrait of delusions, the transitory nature of ownership, gentrification, friendship, growth, masculinity, the growing pains of the life, the City as a whole and much more. A new classic.

Cast: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, Mike Epps
Director: Joe Talbot
Rating: R (for language, brief nudity and drug use)
Genre: Drama
Runtime: 120 minutes
Language: English


By Anthony

San Francisco is a fascinating city for both locals and out-of-town tourists. There's a unique culture and beauty that make people keep coming back. However, the demand for this location may be strong, such that the city has also been plagued by one major problem in recent years: out-of-control real estate prices, probably the worst housing market in America. Living in SF unfortunately requires a sizable down payment just to buy a small house in the city, or a significant monthly payment just to rent a studio apartment. It seems now that residence in San Francisco heavily favors the wealthy and prices out everyone else.

The last Black Man in San Francisco4 450One example of a San Francisco native who can truly understand this is Jimmie Fails. This African American man had grown up in a Victorian house in San Francisco that his grandfather purchased, before financial difficulties resulted in the eviction of him and his family. It led Fails to live with his close friend Joe Talbot, who is white. Over the years, a demographic shift would result in fewer blacks living in SF, including the neighborhood where Fails grew up. And in recent years, Fails and Talbot collaborated on a film inspired by these experiences. The result is the drama film The Last Black Man in San Francisco, directed by Talbot and starring Fails as a fictionalized version of himself.

In this film, Jimmie is living at the house of his best friend Mont (played by Jonathan Majors) and Mont's grandfather (played by Danny Glover). It's really a temporary home because Jimmie has nowhere else to go. But in his quest to find a new home, he doesn't go out looking for any vacant housing. He fixates on one particular house, a large old-style home. That's because his grandfather had built and owned that house many decades ago. Jimmie even goes as far as doing maintenance work on that house without the current homeowner's permission, even if the house is owned without actually being used. And because it isn't used, he decides to just break in and live in it himself.

The last Black Man in San Francisco5 450This is not one of those everyday movies where the story moves along consistently and the focus is on the events of the plot or the feelings and thoughts of the main characters. Rather, this is a film that presents moments in life at a relatively slower pace. Perhaps this is done to allow the audience some time for quiet reflection on themes and topics. It's a chance to think about the heartbreak of being denied a good home because of poverty, the socioeconomic disadvantages of African Americans, and the rapid gentrification of San Francisco thanks to Silicon Valley wealth moving in. Different people in the audience will certainly have different thoughts while watching this.

But if you want to be immersed by what's happening on screen, just remember that there can be beauty in simplicity. Many scenes in this movie are essentially slices of everyday moments in life. I liked the scenes with Jimmie briefly meeting with members of his family living elsewhere, like his loving aunt played by Tichina Arnold and his father who spends time preparing bootleg DVD movies for sale on the street. There's also a group of talkative black guys hanging outside Mont's home and a man who practically lives in his car. Still, I mostly admire the scenes in the big house Jimmie's grandfather built, because Jimmie and Mont are savoring the kind of home they normally couldn't live in. That, and the climactic scene involving something Mont creates.

As a simple and quiet film, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is good. It's also a low-budget film that the star and director poured their hearts into, one that is simultaneously a fictionalized autobiography, a social commentary, and a love letter to San Francisco. This is something the real-life Jimmie Fails and Joe Talbot wanted to do for a while, and I'm happy their wish has come true. And as someone who knows San Francisco and the SF Bay Area at large, I appreciate films that touch upon this geographical area, like how the movies Blindspotting, Sorry to Bother You, and Fruitvale Station touch on the city of Oakland. I certainly would love to see more movies like this one.