The City By The Bay gets an elegiac, heartfelt treatment from Joe Talbot who cannily doles out the story with a certain flexuosity having ideally cast his lead actor and best friend Jimmie Fails whose character goes by the same moniker.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco touches on home, race and gentrification with subtle power with many of the line readings adding to a shaded love/hate relationship. The pride of Fails is taking care of a three-story townhouse in sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. Jimmie wants return the edifice to a kind of pristine condition as when his grandfather constructed it just after WWII. The caveat is that he doesn’t dwell there and isn’t welcomed to do by the currently residing elderly Caucasian couple.
Fails has a tight relationship with Montgomery ‘Mont’ Allen, a very impressive Jonathan Majors of White Boy Rick who provides narration of yesteryear cinema like 1949s D.O.A for a blind grandfather (local Danny Glover). When not selling fish for food he’s doing painting and sketching for a stage presentation long-in-the-making. An inspiration which serves as a Greek chorus are nearby voluble, gibing young black men.
Jimmie is the ordinary guy who authentically manifests the angst of transition of what undeniably is in part due to escalating housing costs as Talbot gets many strong technical contributors, like the lensing from Adam Newport-Berra, to bring feeling to a modern urban depiction. The screenplay by Talbot and Rob Richert puts Fails into a precarious domestic decision which could involve Aunt Wanda (Tichina Arnold), grifting dad (Rob Morgan) or being a squatter at grandpa’s place. It all leads to an oration of Mont’s aspiration emerging with honest, unsentimental soulfulness.
An unconditional love through a sense of belonging is evidenced in the filmmaking with Fails and Majors an inviting, even witty duo, often donning the same garb and testing their camaraderie. Colorful surrounding denizens include an admonishing lay evangelist (Willie Hen) while Tim “Opera” Blevins is the vagrant with much vocal street credit. Other subordinating parts are ably filled by Thora Birch, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock, and notably Jello Biafra. After watching San Francisco what has been left there has been regaled with fond recollection and moving forward in a touching passage that discourages disparaging.