If you take the concept “surreal black fable about gentrification in the Bay Area,” then go as far away from Sorry to Bother You as you can get on foot in an afternoon, always keeping If Beale Street Could Talk in your line of sight, you might land in the neighborhood of The Last Black Man in San Francisco. I liked this movie quite a bit. It was strange in ways I enjoyed, and strange in others that felt more like the growing pangs of a directorial debut. The first was in some of the details, and the second in the story structure, which I would have pushed them on. The pacing gets too airy in the back half, the focus widening in a way that was intended to bring more into the frame but I felt just made everything a bit fuzzier, and would have made a case that they stay more narrowly focused in favor of stronger clarity. Just stay tight on that house, it’s such an anchor; the set and the stakes and framing all wrapped up in one big old Victorian in the Mission.
But god, is this ever a visually gorgeous film. The opening sequence of Jimmy and Montgomery traveling through the city is breathtaking—luminous light, this grand yet frayed-edged horn score, that one slow motion effect where it’s like you’re moving around someone in a tableau (I looove thaaaat). Honestly, if they’d kept up the sheer glowing artistry of the first 10 or so minutes throughout the whole piece, that might not have even been a good thing! I might have passed out.
The cinematography does maintain a baseline of high beauty throughout though, with a loving Portrait mode focus length, and colors that made the whole city look the way summer days look when I’m wearing my nice polarized sunglasses. And this is good—it is a movie about beauty in many ways. About the longing for a beautiful, physical thing, something whose beauty you can maintain with your own two hands and thus share in it. I think the style was in harmony with the substance there. And not just because I sure did like resting my eyes on the warm color scheme of the two leads’ costumes, which they wear day in day out, like picture book characters.
So yes, The Last Black Man in San Francisco does have some flaws, but it looks good, and it feels good, too. Some of the messaging may have a clumsy delivery, but it’s still sincerely intended and moving, with enough wry humor to give texture to this elegiac love letter to a city passing away, and those it leaves as survivors. It also has a truly fantastic trailer, like this is the kind of trailer that can make you believe in Movies, full stop.