A little black girl is in no particular hurry to get to school, because after all, everything about LIFE right in front of her is so interesting at this very moment.
She looks up at a white man in a hazmat suit who is part of a team doing some sort of clean-up in the bay. She hops and skips past yellow crime tape.
This is the opening note of “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” and at first we’re thinking this might be some sort of modern-day sci-fi horror film, heavy on the allegory — but it turns out to be something quite different, something beautiful and melancholy and almost musical in its language.
The talented director/co-writer Joe Talbot’s “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is a story of two cities, of the haves and have-nots, of people living in the same town but in different worlds.
On this corner, a group of young men who spend all day and night doing nothing, watching the world go by, trying to stay out of trouble except for the times when they go looking for trouble.
On that corner, exiting the $4 million Victorian “Painted Lady” house that was built in the 19th century, a fussy couple who always seem to be on their way to a Farmer’s Market or coming home from an expensive meal.
“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” centers on two street-smart, book-smart, tough but also sensitive best friends, Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and Montgomery (Jonathan Majors).
Sometimes they go to work, and sometimes they seem to have the entire day to themselves. They live with Montgomery’s blind grandfather (Danny Glover in a warm and sharp performance), who loves to sit with the guys at night while his grandson relates the visuals of old crime caper movies playing on the TV.
Montgomery is an aspiring playwright who draws beautiful sketches of the neighborhood and its characters and is always taking notes for possible dialogue. Jimmie is obsessed with reclaiming the house in San Francisco’s historic Fillmore District that was built by his grandfather some 70 years ago but is now occupied by a middle-aged couple who don’t appreciate the magnificence of this unique structure.
This is a gorgeously shot film, alternating between images of San Francisco at its most beautiful and promising, and visuals of the lost and the homeless and the forgotten, who might as well be invisible to the techies and the artistes and the upscale movers and shakers.
Jimmie is a dreamer, to the point of being borderline delusional about certain things. Montgomery goes along with Jimmie’s schemes and illusions until he no longer can. Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors are nothing short of great, each delivering powerful work, each hitting it out of the park in showcase scenes. Theirs is one of the most authentic and touching and powerful relationships of any kind in any film this year.
Some movies you can shake off by the time you exit the multiplex and you’re back to your life, thinking about the rest of your day or evening. This is not one of those movies.