There’s something both exciting and naive about a project like The Last Black Man In San Francisco that is nice to get every once in a while. Conceived as an idea by friends from Bay Area, director/writer Joe Talbot and the lead actor Jimmie Fails, it’s a personal story to them that touches gentrification, male vulnerability and family relationships. Probably thanks to Talbot’s inexperience and passion, it’s a highly original piece of work that keeps surprising with its choices and quirks.
Talbot’s directorial eye is some of the most promising stuff that came out in 2019. Whether starting with two men riding a skateboard together to show their connection or later on having them face up to each other during a theatre play, they definitely don’t follow the usual structure of a scene. That could be a disaster if it doesn’t connect to the story but here it’s a pleasure. And just as its own the directing is, so is the whole film. The structure is never really streamlined but it works as we kind of go with the flow of the bus stops and skateboarding in different speeds. This all is also supported by a weird soundtrack which at points combines acapella with more mainstream tracks.
Jimmie Fails (as Jimmie) and Jonathan Majors (as Mont) are a perfect friend combo on the screen as their downplayed energy is never mistaken for lack of compassion. Supporting cast had some wonderful surprises for someone like me who didn’t know about them beforehand: Rob Morgan (as James Sr.), Danny Glover (as Grandpa Allen) and Tichina Arnold (as Wanda) fit in well with the world that has been presented even before they appear. We as viewers move around a lot with the characters which helps the locations be a nice touch every time. At times there’s a lot of indie filmmaking in this indie filmmaking in a sense that slow-mo shots start to get repetitive and conversation linger around a bit too long. But this story doesn’t really have a cinematic ending so overall it goes as far as it can go.
Smileys: Directing, originality, casting, locations
Honestly though, sharing a skateboard needs some Jedi energy to keep both of you calm and collected.