One of the things I truly love about seeing movies is when I can be surprised and moved with one that falls under the radar. One such film is the debut feature from director & writer Joe Talbot, as adapted from lead actor and childhood friend Jimmie Fails
In addition to the look of the film, which is beautifully shot by cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra, all the pieces of the puzzle from acting, writing, score, and the many themes weaver into the story, flow together in perfect unison.
The film centers around the previously mentioned Jimmie Fails, a man obsessed with his childhood home and the family he lost many years ago. He spends his time trying to preserve the house by carrying out little bits of unwanted maintenance like painting the window trim, much to the chagrin of the new owners. Along for the ride is Jimmie’s loyal friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors), a sort of soft outsider who works on his art and plays in various moments.
Jim, sort of estranged from his mother and father is a bit of a nomad, at one point living in a car and even a group home for a year. He now crashes at Mont’s house who lives with his blind grandpa (an excellent Danny Glover). By day Jim works as a caretaker but his real passion is recovering this house that holds a special place to him since his grandfather built it.
One day by chance when visiting the house as they often do, Jim and Mont discover that the current owners are being forced out due to a family inheritance dispute. With the house empty Jim sees his chance to fulfill his destiny of moving back in. Acquiring the old family furniture from his aunt who has held on to most of it via storage since they lost the house, Jim and Mont triumphantly make the house their own.
It’s here that we are introduced to yet another important character in the film, that being the house itself. As we are taken through the house in all its glory, it’s easy to se why Jimmie is so taken by it, besides it being his home when he was young. What follows is an incredible journey of the ups and downs of life in a rapidly changing society due to the gentrification of these surrounding areas in the Bay Area.
The strongest element by far is the wonderful friendship between Jimmie and Montgomery. Played with precise affection by Fails and Majors, you want these two to triumph over their many obstacles. Both actors compliment each other well and have many thoughtful interactions with each other. Jim’s dream is Mont’s dream and vice versa.
Another noteworthy element is the identity searching these characters participate in. Often mocked by a neighborhood group of guys for being strange, soft, and different, Jim and Mont push on toward their goals. Jimmie is so wrapped up in this quest for making this house his that he losses his way a little later in the film.
The third act packs an impassioned punch, centering on a play Montgomery is staging at the house that reveals some secrets about the house and Mont’s festered rage. The score is perfectly paired with some great cinematography throughout and acts as a affectionate admiration of the city.
In one of the most surprising and poignant scenes in the film, Jimmie comes across his mother while riding the bus. Not having a close relationship with her and fueled additionally by the distance of the two, it’s as surreal and sad as it is heartbreaking.
The film in a small way reminded me of some of Spike Lee’s early work, mostly in the look and feel of the film. It’s hard to believe that this is Talbot and Fails’ first film, but that makes me excited for what they hopefully have in store for future collaborations.
Intimate passion projects like this deserves a second and third helping. I can’t recommend this film highly enough. It’s a film that, in a good way, gets under your skin and stays with you. It plays on our tendency to harken back to our childhood, to often better times where we had people with us who we’ve since lost. It’s a simple but effective hook and one that, by the very nature of its irresistible simplicity, makes The Last Black Man in San Francisco one of my very favourite movies of 2019.
Film’89 Verdict – 9/10
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is on limited theatrical release now (selected regions).