ON THE COUNT OF THREE (2021)
Two friends spend their last day together, having planned a mutual suicide to end it.
If you had one day left to live, what would you do? Would you spend it righting wrongs, visiting old haunts, or drinking the fear away? What if it was your choice this was your last day, would that change how you approached it? Those questions and more are at the heart of Jerrod Carmichael’s directorial debut, the bitterly dark and laugh-out-loud funny On the Count of Three.
The film follows two lifelong friends, Val (Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbott), through what they have decided is to be their last day. Both Val and Kevin recently attempted suicide and have now made a pact to shoot each other in the head, until Kevin convinces Val to live one more day before they commit the deed.
It’s about as dark of a premise as one can conjure up, but Carmichael injects proceedings with genuine moments of warmth, humour, nuance, and perhaps most importantly, friendship. On the Count of Three is a film about many things, such as how life can be sent spiraling down the wrong path, but at its core, it’s about the power of friendship. Outside of perhaps Jackass Forever (2022), it’s been at least since Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019) or maybe even further back to Everybody Wants Some!! (2016) that I’ve seen such an honest depiction of male friendship.
Val and Kevin drive around listening to music, get into fights, ride dirtbikes, and confront enemies… the type of stuff two pals would be doing in a typical coming-of-age film, buddy cop comedy, or other forms of a friendship-based two-hander. Here, they just happen to also have planned a mutual suicide to end their day. Their camaraderie’s the backbone of the story, as well as what keeps it tethered to the ground, to keep it from flying off into a realm that’s too sardonic or dark.
Carmichael and Abbott also have great chemistry together. As a standup comic, Carmichael is well-equipped to land all of the brutal jokes, so his dry delivery is a perfect match for playing Val. I don’t know when exactly Christopher Abbott became one of our most underrated actors (probably 2020’s Possessor and Black Bear?), but his performance is manic, kind-hearted, and fully realized. It’s easily one of the best supporting performances of the year so far.
Throughout their last day, Val and Kevin run into (or seek out) a number of acquaintances, including Val’s girlfriend Natasha (a subdued Tiffany Haddish), Kevin’s former therapist Dr Brenner (Henry Winkler), Val’s estranged father Lyndell (J.B Smoove), and their former employer Donny (a scene-stealingly funny Lavell Crawford). Each performer adds a further layer to the story both, in just one or two scenes, and help makes this deep thematic dish even richer.
For a directorial debut, the filmmaking craft is also strong in On the Count of Three. Cinematographer Marshall Adamas composes some beautiful views, composer Owen Pallet (of Arcade Fire fame) drums up an effecting score, and editor Tom Eagles maintains a propulsive pace.
I’m very interested to see what Carmichael does next, potentially with his own screenplay because, between his standup specials and sitcom The Carmichael Show, he’s also proven to be an adept writer. I was genuinely surprised to realise he hadn’t written On the Count of Three.
Whatever happens next for Carmichael, he has real cinematic chops in the director’s chair and in what he’s willing to portray on camera. On the Count of Three is downright brave in the tonal whiplash that it risks, in the line it walks, and in its depiction of a subject matter as thorny as suicide, which includes a pair of howlingly funny needle drops.
I also hope Carmichael reteams with Abbott on something, although perhaps working on lighter material. On the Count of Three is one of the most audacious debuts in some time. It’s a little too rough around the edges to be considered flawless, but that will just leave cinephiles that much more excited to see what Carmichael has up his sleeve next.
CANADA | 2021 | 86 MINUTES | COLOUR | ENGLISH
director: Jerrod Carmichael.
writers: Ari Katcher & Ryan Welch.
starring: Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbott, Tiffany Haddish, J.B Smoove, Lavell Crawford & Henry Winkler.