“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” sounds like a play on a science-fiction concept, but this gorgeously filmed semi-autobiographical story is grounded in all the realities of the modern, changing world. It stars and was written by SF native Jimmie Fails and was directed by his childhood friend Joe Talbot — the feature debut for both of them, though you’d never know it — with Fails playing a version of himself. In the film, Jimmie and his friend Monty (Jonathan Majors) seek to reclaim the house that Jimmie’s grandfather built in 1946 (which the family subsequently lost) before the neighborhood is fully gentrified. Jimmie can already see history being erased when a tour guide tells his gaggle of Segway-riding listeners that Jimmie’s grandfather’s house was built in the 1850s by white people.
This is the third film in barely a year, after “Blindspotting” and “Sorry to Bother You,” to address black people’s concerns about the Bay Area’s shifting demographics and culture, but the first to keep itself grounded in reality. Even so, the film is full of lyrical reveries as it artfully follows Jimmie and Monty around the neighborhood. It’s a love letter to the real San Francisco and a poignant rumination on changing with the times, the lies we tell ourselves, and how we choose which parts of the past to keep and which to discard. With Fails’ soulful melancholy bolstered by textured performances from Majors, Danny Glover (as Monty’s blind grandfather), and Tichina Arnold (as Jimmie’s auntie), it’s a well-acted and lovingly detailed slice of 21st-century life.
B+ (2 hrs., 1 min.; )