Higgins’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Last Black Man in San Francisco, in many ways, is a love story between a man and the house that still anchors him to the city he loves. Jimmie Fails plays himself in this autobiographical tale of a San Franciscan who is coming to grips with the fact that he is losing his city. Gentrification has pushed him and many things he identifies, to the fringes of his city by the bay. The only thing that still tethers him to it is an old family home, now owned by strangers. He shows up regularly to take care of the home even though the current owners don’t want him to. He is joined by his eccentric best friend Montgomery, played brilliantly by Johnathan Majors, who chronicles their journeys in a play he has been writing for a while.
Both Fails and Majors are excellent here. They play off each other in a believable yet unique way. They both seem simultaneously relatable and alien. It’s the perfect mixture for a film about feeling alienated in your own home.
When asked about the film, Majors said that it’s a movie about ownership and how the only real thing you own is yourself. It’s also about identity and how we are all born into boxes - Boxes imposed on us from our forefathers, our parents and our society. The film however, does an excellent job at showing us that we are not just one thing or one box.
Lastly the film asks and answers the question, What’s history worth? What do you have once people take the physical representation of your history away. The house is a microcosmic representation of how gentrification not only pushes poor people out of their homes but also changes the identity of that home. This brings us full circle to the idea of ownership and how you can’t own a city or a house when all is said and done.
All these themes are beautifully brought to the screen by director Joe Talbot. This, his first feature film, is as cinematically gorgeous as it is politically relevant and emotionally enveloping. The cinematography, by Adam Newport-Barre, is subtle when it needs to be and breathtaking when it doesn’t, culminating in a final scene which is visually, one of my favorites of the year.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a labor of love between two best friends. Director writer Joe Talbot and actor writer Jimmie Fails. It took them five years to make this picture and it was worth every minute. Both men, through this movie, have put an indelible mark on Hollywood and will definitely go on to have long and productive careers if they choose to.
This is the type of film that you know is special when the credits roll. You don’t truly understand how special it is until you have time to sit and think about what you’ve seen. Do yourself a favor, sit and think about this film until the credits are over. You’ll thank me.