Madison is on her way to get a dress for an event at a store when she gets a phone call on her cell phone from her best friend Chrissy.
Chrissy is having a relationship and dating crisis, but as she talks and Madison listens — browsing through racks of clothing and trying things on — it comes clear that this isn’t a typical dating-related conversation. Chrissy realizes that she is rejecting a suitor — a man she says is ideal in almost every way — because of his race. Chrissy’s real crisis, then, is the question of whether or not she is racist.
Madison is supportive and non-judgmental about Chrissy, but this only seems to upset Chrissy more as the conversation swerves into thornier territory. And as these two white girls attempt to talk about racism, they find themselves on the opposite sides of a chasm that threatens their lifelong bond.
Writer-director Alexander Christenson’s incisive short drama is a snapshot of a conversation that reveals the underlying cracks and fault lines between two previously hidden but disparate world views — and about a subject that many find difficult to talk about.
What’s unique about the short is that while it is about race, it focuses not on how racism affects the experiences of those it oppresses, but the discourse that exists around race, and how ideas and attitudes are perpetuated through the very act of communication. The film is impeccably crafted, with a slightly moody eye for realism and fluid camerawork and editing, but the visuals are never flashy and distract from the real pulse of the short, which is its high-wire scrutiny of two white people grappling with the specter of their own unacknowledged racism.
Thematic terrain this tricky requires intelligence, discernment and discipline to approach, and here it’s found especially in the writing, which has the gift of both capturing a particular “type” — the “progressive” young urbanite — and exploring its ideas with subtlety. The characters and their POVs are handled with an even-handedness, beginning as just two people living their lives and minding their own business. But as one of them begins to question the “business as usual,” the other seems to dismiss the conversation with well-meaning reassurance that her friend is a good person, and can’t possibly be racist.
Perhaps it’s out of this friendship that Madison writes off Chrissy’s worries, but Chrissy is much more shaken by her revelations, and then surprised at how willing Madison is to dismiss the conversation altogether. The rationales Madison offers are familiar and comforting, things we have all heard before perhaps — but they seem to blanket over a more serious issue and a possible divide line between two best friends.
“A Phone Call From My Best Friend” feels unusually prescient and urgent, especially during this current political moment of reckoning in America, when people are scrutinizing ideas about silence, politeness, “color-blindness” and neutrality and how they fit into the perpetuation of racism.
As a result, the film is a true conversation piece — a meta-conversation if you will — and is provocative not in the sense of fomenting extreme emotion, but offering a jumping-off point of self-reflection and thought. “A Phone Call From My Best Friend” is in many ways a quieter than expected film — disciplined, naturalistic, almost like an episode of whatever the HBO young urbanite show of the year is — but its impact is much bigger than initial appearances. It leaves its final questions in the hands of the audience to answer, as well as an uneasiness that’s up to us to reconcile and reckon with.