Jimmie Fails (Fails) has a dream. He wants to live in the ornate Victorian house with red and gold trim his grandfather built after WWII in San Fran’s in Filmore district. His father (Rob Morgan) lost the house when Jimmie was just a child and now the home’s contents are stored in a relative’s basement. When he isn’t working at the old folk’s home he spends time at the house, even though another older couple own it. Uninvited and much to the consternation of the residents, he does odd jobs like yard work and painting the windowsills. “This house,” he says. “This is what I do.”
When the old couple moves, leaving the home empty, Jimmie moves in. After an unsuccessful attempt to buy the place from a realtor (Finn Wittrock) who needs 20% down on the $4 million price he claims squatter’s rights and has the bills put in his name. His friend, budding playwright Montgomery (Jonathan Majors), moves in with him and they attempt to recreate the home as Jimmie remembers it from his youth.
“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is about many things. Nostalgia. Love of friends and city. It’s about how gentrification in San Francisco has marginalized people of colour creating housing inequality. Mostly, though, it’s about the bittersweet romanticizing of the past with a healthy dose of reality. Perhaps Wolfe was right, but simply because the home in question is four walls and a roof, not a panacea to Jimmie’s feelings of emotional displacement. Jimmie’s expectations linked to the idea of home, in this his case feelings of family unity, are likely never to be met. It’s melancholic and beautifully rendered in a film that feels like a tone poem of love and loss.