The Last Black Man in San Francisco

First Hit: I was both enthralled and, at times, perplexed by this quirky powerfully acted story.

The opening set of scenes; a neighborhood preacher/orator is standing on a box talking about cleaning up the neighborhood near the Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard. There’s a local group of young men hanging out talking smack to each other south of Hunter’s Point. Also, there are men in hazmat suits cleaning up the hillside near the shipyard. A fantastic looking house in the Fillmore district on “Golden Gate near Fillmore” (House is really on S. Van Ness), and other great shots in the city, were all mesmerizing. These opening scenes and more were amazingly shot, giving a languid sense of life in a subsection of San Francisco.

But all is not so languid on the inside and neighborhood as Jimmie Fails (plays himself) rides a skateboard everywhere around the area, stopping, looking at “his grandfather’s house.” We find him sitting in front of the house on S. Van Ness Avenue. His close friend Montgomery Allen (“Mont” Jonathan Majors) is often with him. In fact, Jimmie sleeps at Mont’s home where Mont takes care of his Grandpa Allen (Danny Glover). And there is a tension that rises from all the players, except Mont.

In an early scene, Jimmie is climbing up on the house on S. Van Ness and is painting the windowsill. The owners of the home come back and start throwing fruit at him, telling him he must leave, and he must quit coming by the house and painting it.

He claims that his grandfather built the house in the early 1940s, although the style and construction type is clearly from a time 100 years earlier. In one scene, he shares this information to a crowd led by a tour guide (Jello Biafra) on Segways in front of the house – it is both funny and telling of Jimmie’s deeper self.

As he keeps telling the story about how his grandfather built the home, and as an audience member, I am becoming convinced that he is right.

There are scenes of the Greek chorus (the gang) in which they challenge each other on some set of facts or of their manliness, and most of the time, through the biting comments, all is made well enough.

The couple living in the home leaves, so Jimmie and Mont move in. There are exploratory sections where Jimmie tries to get a loan from a bank, and Mont talks with the listing Real Estate Agent named Clayton (Finn Wittrock) who shows the property deed to Mont. The exploration here shows just how difficult it is to find a path to their want - the house and the truth.

Mont writes and draws in a notebook he’s always carrying around, and one evening he writes a play, which they put on at the house. It is a great scene.

The film was touching in many ways because Jimmie is attempting to live in an idealized world and believe the story he tells himself. Mont is wonderfully supportive and faithful and Jimmie’s friend. The intense scenes of the group challenging each other, the play, and when Jimmie is pleading for money from the bank’s loan manager are powerful. The poignant, convincing acting is telling a story of wants, desires, wishes, family, pain, and truth.

Fails is great as himself in a role he envisioned as a very young boy. His remembrances of being in the house as a young boy are particularly vivid. Majors, as Jimmie’s friend Montgomery, is elegant in this role. His ability to live in a present moment and not become too swayed by emotions, especially when the gang attack him verbally was stunning. Glover was fun as the grandfather who couldn’t see and needed television programs explained to him. Willie Hen as the corner preacher who stands on boxes and shares his word was amazingly strong. He captures so much of what is going on in SF and life in his sharing of his truth. Wittrock was excellent as the real estate agent who grew up in the neighborhood. The Greek Chorus (the gang that hangs out) were all great, each exemplifying an attitude and stake in the ground of the city. Joe Talbot and Rob Richert wrote a wonderfully dynamic screenplay that was based on a story by Jimmy Fails. Talbot shows us in the first 5 minutes that he’s an influential director with a clear vision.

Overall: When Jimmie says; “You can’t hate this city unless you love it,” a sentiment that, based on this film, it says it all.