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Sundance Review: ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ is another winner from A24

Written by: Adriana Gomez-Weston, CC2K Staff Writer

There’s a saying that home is where the heart is, but what happens when your home is taken away? What happens when you’re in love with a city that doesn’t quite love you back? The Last Black Man in San Francisco is film that debates the importance of the home in an ever changing society. Of the many films on the radar at Sundance, very few drum up some early buzz. One of the festival’s breakout films is this particular story. In his feature debut, director and long-time San Franciscan Joe Talbot and his childhood friend Jimmie Fails have co-written a moving story of friendship, loss, and home in the Golden City. The film is based on the experiences of Fails (who plays himself).

The Last Black Man in San Francisco serves as a love letter to San Francisco, but it mourns the rapid changes of the beautiful, historic city. Longing for the home of his past, Jimmie makes a pilgrimage to historic San Francisco every couple of weeks to tend his family home, a cozy and unique Victorian sanctuary. Despite the fact that it’s occupied by other residents, Jimmie still takes time to maintain the house by tasks such as painting the window frames, and looking after the garden. Regardless of the house’s current residents, Jimmie is resilient in his quest to take back ownership.

Displaced by his circumstances, Jimmie resides in his best friend Mont’s (Jonathan Majors) home on the other side of town. Estranged from the rest of his family, Jimmie sees the house as a means to reconnect to his past. Meanwhile, Mont, an aspiring writer struggles to find inspiration to write. As Jimmie struggles to keep the house, Mont utilizes his surroundings and the little occurrences in his life to tell a story. At the bus stop, Jimmie and Mont encounter a zealous preacher. In their neighborhood, the two men constantly pass by a group of rowdy young men (Entitled the Greek Chorus), which includes Jimmie’s estranged childhood friend Kofi (Jamal Trulove).

After a turn of good luck, Jimmie and Mont are able to move back into the house…temporarily. After the home’s current residents swiftly vacate, Jimmie and Mont establish residency. With a place to call home, Jimmie is able to feel a sense of peace and stability, if only for a little while. Throughout the film, there’s a sense of wistfulness over what was lost. Jimmie loves the house because it’s the place where he held family dinners, and connected. After the loss of the house, his family drifted away. His father (Rob Morgan) exists in tiny apartment on the other side of town. His mother is a drifter, and his aunt (Tichina Arnold) lives somewhere outside of San Francisco. Over the course of the film, Jimmie is forced to reckon with the ever changing San Francisco, in which there’s little regards to history or sentimental value.

The cast of The Last Black Man in San Francisco is rounded out by supporting performances by Danny Glover, Tichina Arnold, and Rob Morgan. There are even some surprise appearances from the likes of Finn Wittrock and Thora Birch. Spearheaded by Fails and Majors, the film is packed with powerful performances. A highly personal story for Fails, he brings his all to the role. Jonathan Majors is an equal match for Fail’s performance.

The true heart of The Last Black Man in San Francisco is the friendship between Mont and Jimmie. The two men are constantly there to support each other through thick and thin. Inspired by the real friendship of Fails and director Joe Talbot, there’s a sincerity and emotional connection embedded in the actions of the characters. The Last Black Man in San Francisco brings forth a rare relationship on screen, a loving, trusting relationship between two black men. It’s something we need more of onscreen.

If A24 plays their cards right, they may have another awards contender on their hands. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a refreshing tale that deserves to be pushed for consideration. With A24’s current track record, we may be hearing a lot more about The Last Black Man in San Francisco in the months to come. When it comes out in theaters, make sure to go see it.