Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

I like the heck out of San Francisco, even if it does get unreasonably chilly at night even in July, and it kind of makes me sad to know that, given that it has an even more insane real estate situation than Boston, it would be almost impossible for me to actually live in one of the cool buildings there, especially when you get to the sort of places like the house Jimmie is obsessed with in this movie. Of course, the film also reminds me that if I did, I'd be the sort of local-displacing interloper that's destroying it, though I like to think I'd try not to be.

(What is to be done with places like this to keep them the way that they were? I was kind of a sarcastic jerk over the weekend in telling my brother and his wife that, really, I don't care for Austin, Texas at all, but it's like a lot of cities I love - Boston, SF, London - in that it's so desirable a place to live and be known to live that rich folks move in and push all the cool, eccentric things out and make it impossible for the people who made the place cool to afford to live there. How does a city reap the benefit of its cachet without eating itself that way?)

A credit or two has it fit nicely into the category of "cool filmmakers giving back" like The Third Wife did a couple days earlier, too - sure, you'll see Brad Pitt's name in the credits, but one of the first films that leapt to mind when I heard the title was Medicine for Melancholy, which played IFFBoston a decade and ago and also had a theme of there not being much room for black people inside this proudly cosmopolitan city. The guy that made that has gone on to bigger things, but stick around through the credits for this, and, yep, there's Barry Jenkins as someone who kicked in enough to its Kickstarter to be credited as an Associate Producer. It's also got the detailed thank-yous before the usual long list of names, too.

I don't know how much longer this one will be around for, but go see it in the theater if you can. I say this a lot, but it's the sort of movie that benefits from the audience looking up and around rather than forward just even if it doesn't seem epic or larger-than-life; the cinematography puts you in these places and envelops you, and it's easier to get lost in the very specific mood this way too.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 July 2019 in Somerville Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

The Last Black Man in San Francisco may be the year's best tale of unrequited love; it's certainly the one where the camera most clearly adores its subjects. That the object of that adoration is a house or a city hardly matters.

The man in love is Jimmie Fails; the building is a beautiful house on Fillmore, which Jimmie will say with no small amount of pride was built by his grandfather in 1946. He hasn't lived there since he was a small child, though; his father lost it and his family fell apart. Now, he and his best friend Montgomery Allen (Jonathan Majors) paint and tend to it, much to the consternation of the couple that actually owns it. When that couple is forced to vacate, Jimmie and Mont start squatting, returning the old furnishings and setting to work on restoration.

A Segway tour early on explains that this neighborhood used to be "the Harlem of the West", and before that was mostly Japanese; it's mostly older white folks now. San Francisco has lately become infamous for pushing its long-time less-than-wealth residents out, and that's a constant undercurrent of this film, both overtly and in how it emphasizes how much effort Jimmie and Mont have to make in order to get to not just the house but to their service jobs. The people who keep the city running and clearly love it more than the tourists who gawk (most notably in a sequence where folks in a cable-car-inspired tour bus gawk at an eccentric Jimmie is chatting with), but can't be part of it.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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