Dark Comedy with a Heart, On the Count of Three Brings Humor to a Tough Subject
Film: On The Count of Three
Director: Jerrod Carmichael
Category: Feature – U.S. Dramatic
Award: Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award – U.S. Dramatic
I have to start with a content warning: On the Count of Three is a dark comedy about suicide. That’s a pretty serious subject for such a hilarious movie, but that’s exactly what this movie is. It’s a funny buddy comedy about two friends that are planning to die by a double suicide. Jerrod Carmichael’s (The Carmichael Show) directorial debut navigates this sensitive subject with a great sense of levity and reminds you why you want to be alive.
The film starts out introducing Kevin (Christopher Abbott, It Comes At Night) in a mental institution after a suicide attempt trying to convince a therapist to release him before ultimately admitting he’s been like this his whole life and nothing has ever helped. Next, we meet Kevin’s best friend Val (Jerrod Carmichael) as he is getting a promotion at a job he hates and he attempts suicide at work in the bathroom because he feels like his life is pointless. Val fails his attempt, so he heads to the mental institution where Kevin is at to break him out. The two escape with the help of a cigarette and a fire alarm, and head to a strip club at 10:30 in the morning. Val then tells Kevin his plan, he has two guns and proposes that since the two of them don’t want to live anymore, they kill each other on the count of three. At the last second, Kevin changes his mind, saying he wants one day to get even with some people and finish some business then at the end of the day, they can shoot on the count of three for real.
The film then follows Kevin and Val throughout their day. The two have breakfast and Kevin sees a bully from high school, Val takes money back from his abusive father that took advantage of him, the two ride dirt bikes at the race track they used to work at, then they rob a convenience store for medical supplies (kind of, they technically pay for it, just with the cashier at gunpoint) after Val cuts his leg on the dirt bike. Throughout the film, you can see that both of them, especially Kevin, are tired of being ignored and stepped on by people throughout their lives from the bully to Val’s dad to the guy at the convenience store that ignored them when they asked for help. The two also clearly are just at a point that they can’t handle everything they’re going through, like Kevin’s childhood trauma with his psychologist Dr. Brenner (Henry Winkler, Barry), and Val’s pregnant girlfriend, Natasha (Tiffany Haddish, Girls’ Trip) wanting more support from him.
This movie has such a great sense of humor and such a great use of music within the scenes. Within the first ten minutes, the tone is set. As Val is in the bathroom stall of his workplace trying to hang himself with his belt, his coworker walks in singing “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” by country star Travis Tritt, which is some real on the nose dark humor. After deciding to spend their last day tying up loose ends, Kevin gets into Val’s Jeep and plays “Last Resort” by Papa Roach as his last day’s theme song, which Val promptly stops, saying, “I don’t want to spend my last day listening to Papa f**king Roach,” (Papa Roach’s classic hit returns one more time towards the end of the film at the best time). Out of the 14 films I screened during Sundance 2021, this was the single moment that I had to stop the movie and fully laugh out loud. For such a heavy topic, the filmmakers found great moments of levity to give you a break from the existential sadness. The writers of this film, Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch (longtime collaborators with Carmichael), did such a tactful job of navigating such a heavy topic with honesty and clarity. This film does not shy away from the reality of the situation while still finding dark humor in the events of Val and Kevin’s last day.
On the Count of Three is a heavy, but hilarious take on a best friends’ day out movie. Jerrod Carmichael and Christopher Abbott deliver two gut-busting and gut-wrenching performances that tie this film together, with a great supporting cast in brief appearances from Tiffany Haddish and Henry Winkler. Striking the perfect balance between devastating, uncomfortable, witty, and entertaining, On the Count of Three is well worth the watch.
Review Score: 5/5
Where Can You Watch: Annapurna Pictures purchased On the Count of Three for $2 million at Sundance. You can check in on the studio’s Twitter account for updates.