“You don’t get to hate it unless you love it.”
A24’s The Last Black Man In San Francisco has finally hit screens in Australia after a successful
run in the United States in mid 2019.
The Sundance darling of 2019 received high praise all of last year, so fans of indie cinema were
in for a treat when it was announced it would finally be hitting our shores.
What a treat it was. TLBMISF triumphs as a debut for Joe Talbot, who shares story credits with
lead actor Jimmie Fails (who plays a character of the same name) after they discussed the
possibility of making the film growing up together as teenagers. One $75,000 kickstarter campaign later, paired with nation – wide attention and a hashtag that saw Fails become a local legend in San Fran, they had the basis for their film.
Brad Pitt’s Plan B jumped on board to produce and A24 signed on to distribute is any young
filmmaker’s dream becoming a reality. It shows in this film, too, the appreciation of the risk
people took on them, because it shines in every frame.
TLBMISF opens in what any unassuming audience member would perceive as an altered-2019.
There’s a little girl skipping through men with Hazmat Suits on as they clean toxic waste from
the shores of the harbour. The harsh juxtaposition is enough to throw anyone off the possibility
of that being the real situation in San Francisco, however it is an artist’s job to expose the truth,
and the pride that Talbot and Fails have in their city is so apparent here.
We move with Jimmie and his best friend Mont (played by Jonathan Majors of Da 5 Bloods and
Lovecraft Country fame) as they pair up on a single skateboard to arrive at the emotional
epicentre of the film, Jimmie’s old home. They sneak around restoring it from the outside, only to be shunned by the owners, until one day the owners are evicted by a tragedy, and the pair swoop on the opportunity to turn their old home anew.
What the film does so well is connect the nostalgia that Jimmie has for the homes his
Grandfather built and turns it on the viewer. Their quest doesn’t seem in vain, and when it does
that vanity is always met to a justifiable end. There’s never a city-spanning Wide, only ever
intimate Close Ups of the neighbourhoods they’re in.
There’s also underlying themes of masculinity and what it means to be a man in the modern
day. It’s tackled in a way unseen in a lot of modern films, with the angle it takes being loss. Loss
of friends, loss of hope, loss of innocence and ignorance. This film takes the cold hard truth and
brutalizes you before nursing you back to health by its end. It does it so marvelously as well, every shot feels rich and yet so weathered and old, like finding an old film and wondering where it’s been your whole life.
The Last Black Man In San Francisco is an incredible debut for all involved, and it feels like the
debut of the Bay Area on screen again in a way that makes it seem less like something for
Ant-Man to destroy and more like the urban environment we saw in films like Fruitvale Station.
It is so enjoyable and refreshing to watch amongst the sequels and remakes that plague
Hollywood today, and is worth every cent of your ticket.
Check out the trailer below.
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