The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Usually I write movie reviews in batches of seven, but this one can't wait. Saw it tonight, and liked it so much I stayed in my recliner for a second showing. There'll be another showing tomorrow morning.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

Jimmie and Mont (short for Montgomery) are best friends, living in San Francisco's bleak Hunter's Point neighborhood. Jimmie grew up in the Fillmore district, though, a nicer area, where his grandfather built the family home.

They moved out many years ago, but Jimmie and Mont still skateboard past the house, peering up at it. He's nuts about it, and even paints the trim, when he decides the old white couple living there aren't maintaining the place proper. "Just water the plants in the back," he tells them, "or I will."

When there's a death in that white family, the house is vacated, and Jimmie inquires about buying it. Of course, he's black and not made of money, so there's no way he could afford that house in gentrified and uber-expensive San Francisco. The real estate agent says the house might be tied up in probate for years, though, so what the heck, Jimmie and Mort move in.

This is a rare movie that's filmed in the San Francisco where I lived, meaning, there are no loving shots of the Golden Gate Bridge or cable cars climbing halfway to the stars. The story takes place in grimy parts of the city that look like home to me, and it shows some of the city's strangeness, but with proper Frisco etiquette — no gawking.

Most of the cast is black, and there are a few trash-talking n-word-this and n-word-that conversations on the street, something I'm lucky to say will never resonate with me. Just about everything else in the movie does, though — the friendship between Jimmie and Mont, Jimmie's affection for that old house, their joy when they first start squatting there, Mont's dialogue alone on a pier stretching into the murky water, Jimmie skateboarding down one of the city's famous rollercoaster streets, and an unexpected sidewalk hug. 

At its heart, though, this is a romance, between Jimmie and the house.

The story is credited to Jimmie Fails and Joe Talbot. Talbot directed, and Jimmie Fails is the name of the central character, played by the actor, Jimmie Fails. Google tells me the film is "semi-biographical," which doesn't surprise me. It feels more than semi-, and more authentic than most movies.

Talbot and Fails made the film they wanted to make, without any memos from upstairs, because this was funded via Kickstarter, not a studio. It's a very working-class movie, and how many of those do you see?

There's also a jawdropping cameo from Jello Biafra, maybe the best cover of "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" that I've ever heard, and we finally find out where Thora Birch's bus took her at the end of Ghost World.

Verdict: BIG YES.


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