A long time ago, when I was young, I shared an apartment with a friend of mine in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia. The two of us took pride in our ability to meet the rent each month and loved returning to it in the evening after a long day at work, or at school, or both. Looking back now I remember the two of us sitting at the table talking about our day when my friend suddenly said, “I want to go home.”
I looked at her and saw the seriousness of her expression. “I do too,” I said. And then I asked, “Do you mean you want to go home to your parents’ house?”
“No,” she replied. “Do you?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head.
It’s funny, I think, how we both felt it - that desire to go home even if neither of us really knew where home was.
That, however, is not the problem for the main character in the last movie I saw because Jimmie Fails, who plays himself in this film, knows exactly where home is. The movie is The Last Black Man in San Francisco. It’s a movie that builds slowly and sanguinely through the streets and neighborhoods of San Francisco, and at first we’re not really sure where it’s going until we see Jimmie and his best friend Mont staring at an old Victorian house with a tower that "looks like a witch’s hat.”
It’s the house Jimmie’s grandfather built back in 1946. It’s the house Jimmie lived in until he was six when his father lost it. And it’s the house that Jimmie Fails has fallen in love with, the house he returns to often even though its current owner wants him nowhere near it. But when the current owner has to move out, Jimmie moves in, in a move that seems more like a communion than an invasion. It is also the beginning of the end for Jimmie Fails.
I traveled thirty minutes to see this movie on a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon and I’m so glad I did because this story is deep, and heavy, and beautiful. It’s a story that reminds us of how much we all long to return home, even when we aren’t quite sure where home is.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco was the winner of two awards at the Sundance Film Festival and is, according to Roger Ebert (and me), “one of the year’s best films.”
Dear Elvis, my story about love and loss, is available at amzn.to/2uPSFtE