If The Last Black Man in San Francisco doesn’t AT LEAST get best original score and best original song nominations at the Oscars this year, then we’re going to have a major problem on our hands. In reality, judging by everything I’ve seen so far this year, this movie should really sweep both categories and then some.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a new A24 movie (who is having a hell of a summer between this, Midsommar and, from what I’ve heard, The Farewell) that comes from first-time feature-film director Joe Talbot.
How somebody can come out of nowhere and create a film, which is probably one of the best-directed movies I’ve seen so far this year, as beautiful as this one is honestly beyond me. Where you been, Joe Talbot?
In The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Jimmie Fails plays Jimmie Fails (I believe that the story is somewhat based around the actors’ life), who is a man who cares about one thing and one thing only — a single Victorian house in the heart of San Francisco.
Okay, that’s not completely fair, Jimmie cares more about just one house as The Last Black Man in San Francisco portrays the character in a round, three-dimensional way. Jimmie grew up in-between group homes as his father, James Sr. (Daredevil’s Rob Morgan), wasn’t the most supportive parent while his mother, Wanda (Tichina Arnold), completely abandoned the family.
Now, Jimmie works at a local nursing home and lives inside a small but quaint house with his best friend, Montgomery Allen (Jonathan Majors), and Montgomery’s blind grandfather (Danny Glover).
The house, though, is what really takes most of his time and energy. It’s not just any house, mind you. It is, according to Jimmie, the house that his grandfather built way back in the 1940s.
At that time (and according to this movie, which I’m assuming did its research), San Francisco was populated mostly by Japanese families. Those families, however, were disrupted and put into concentration camps following WWII and Pearl Harbor, leaving most of the city a ghost town.
Upon moving to the city and seeing it empty, Jimmie’s grandfather didn’t want to take somebody else’s empty home — that was stealing, as far as he was concerned, even if a bank would sign off on it. Instead, he decided to build his own home from the ground-up, purposefully matching it to the style of the other houses that were built roughly 100 years ago.
Since Jimmie’s grandfather’s death, that house was seized by the bank and now belongs to a rich white couple. That hasn’t stopped Jimmie, though. Oh no. Despite the couple’s constant threats to call the police, Jimmie regularly shows up at the house to paint the windows, do the gardening, etc. The thought of the place looking anything less than perfect is something Jimmie won’t even consider, and if the owners aren’t going to properly take care of it then, well, he’ll just have to do it for them.
An opportunity then arises when the couple is taken away from the house and it’s left to sit there, empty. Jimmie might not have the proper funds to purchase the place for himself, but why just let it sit there? Why not, you know, start taking care of it from the inside, too?
Montgomery, meanwhile, is dealing with his own stuff while all this is going down. Montgomery is Jimmie’s best friend and he’ll follow him to the ends of the earth, but he really dreams about becoming a playwright and is diligently working to try and connect all those pieces.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco, then, is a story about these two men trying to follow their dreams and all the differences challenges and hurdles they have to come while living in this semi-realized and semi-fairytale-like depiction of San Francisco.
In that, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is really about many, many different things.
It is, for example, about gentrification. Similar to last year’s Blindspotting and Sorry to Bother You, The Last Black Man in San Francisco takes a boots-on-the-ground type approach to the issue in showing how white people don’t have any problem with the concept even though it’s black people who are the ones really being affected.
At other times, it’s a movie about family and some of the baggage that might come with that. Throughout the course of the film, Jimmie is constantly running into family members — some of them who are supportive, some who are not and most of whom exist in a gray area. While Jimmie would seemingly rather forget his entire childhood and just live in a state of ignorant bliss, he’s forced to confront some things and put in at least some form of effort when it comes to these relationships.
And still, in other moments, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a movie about friendship. The relationship between Jimmie and Montgomery is never written down in pen — maybe it’s romantic, maybe it’s just delicate — but it’s a refreshing take on male bonding either way. Sure, the Toy Story movies might be about the friendship between Woody and Buzz, but that’s all pretty surface level stuff if you’re comparing it to The Last Black Man in San Francisco — it’s that well realized.
All of that to say, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is doing a lot of different things and balancing several different tones. The good news is that it’s doing all those things to pitch-perfect levels and sticks the landing in every single way.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is this beautiful, sweet little film that also manages to pack such a punch. Talbot seems to simultaneously cover some really heavy topics here, but he manages to do so in a way that doesn’t feel preachy or drawn out.
Part of it has to do with the world that Talbot creates, as it does somehow hover in-between dark, gritty streetscapes and Wes Anderson-like symmetry. Really, though, it’s the little things when it comes to this movie’s style. The unforgettable, jaw-dropping score/soundtrack, the way Talbot films each individual room of this house with all the natural light, the editing techniques — everything works together to create a world so rich and defined that you can’t take your eyes off of it.
There can’t be enough said about the cast, either. Both of the two leads are relatively unknowns — Majors has been in a few things like Captive State and Hostiles, while Fails is new to acting — and manage to deliver all the emotional weight needed in every single scene. There’s some great supporting work in here, too; many of whom I’ve already listed and are all excellent, along with additional performances from Mike Epps as Jimmie’s uncle, Jamal Trulove as a gang member named Kofi and Finn Wittrock as an a-hole real estate salesman.
There’s a whole lot going on inside of The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which is why it’s so weird to me that people aren’t talking about this movie. Guys. Fellas. Listen up. This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in 2019 so far. If I was going to re-do my top ten list today, it’d make it in the top five. Don’t let this one pass you by. It’s simply too well-made and well-acted to be ignored. If Jimmie Fails can spend half his life pursuing a house, you can spend one evening pursuing The Last Black Man in San Francisco.
Watch the trailer for The Last Black Man in San Francisco here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the film!
'The Last Black Man in San Francisco' - Prepare the nominations [REVIEW]9