Two best friends, Val (Jerrod Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbott), stand face-to-face with guns drawn at each other. On the count of three, they will end it for each other, but at the last minute, Kevin has a change of heart and asks for 24 more hours before they fulfill their suicide pact. That is how this dark comedy-drama, On the Count of Three, and Carmichael’s directorial debut, opens up and sets the tone for the rest of the film. Filled with comedic greats, standout performances, and a fresh and bold screenplay, On the Count of Three confronts some heavy issues (suicide, depression, race, and fatherhood) with aplomb, sincerity, and humor.
Before the two friends carry out their mission, they embark on a journey to confront their past and demons, and the day spirals out of control, but not before they see that there is some beauty and happiness in the life they’ve been given. As the day unfolds, Kevin unpacks his life’s trauma and reveals the experiences that led to his current state. At the same time, Val must confront his father and the issues that hold him back from fully embracing his situation and adulthood. Along the way, we are met with childhood bullying and its aftermath, sexual assault and child abuse, and parenthood, giving the viewer a lot to process.
Because On the Count of Three is such a layered film, you are not overwhelmed by the heaviness of their past situations’ subject matter or bleakness. What saves this from being a downer is the comedic undertones and the chemistry between Abbott and Carmichael — they really feel like childhood best friends who’ve been there for each other through the good and bad times. The dark comedy, “odd couple” buddy film set up kinda gives off I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore feels while the mundane reality mixed with the comedy-tinged violence gives Fargo-type vibes. And the dialogue is hilarious.
Jerrod Carmichael should be applauded for the strong, confident directorial approach and execution. But the acting performance of Abbott shouldn’t be overlooked either. He gives such a stirring performance. His comedic timing is spot on and stands out amongst a cast of literal comedians — Tiffany Haddish, J.B. Smoove, Carmichael, and Lavell Crawford (even though they are all playing it slightly straight). The chemistry between the two is great — Carmichael’s Val is much more subdued next to Abbott’s Kevin, who is more erratic and over the top — they are the yin and the yang.
As written and performed, the characters really draw you into their friendship and their mundane world that seems just a tab bit off — what seems like a normal day is sprinkled with such absurdity. And one must appreciate the little messages dropped throughout the pair’s 24-hour experiences — from thoughts on guns and gun control (“guns just give you the illusion of power”) to seizing the day and realized that it is only when you let go of limitations and expectations that you see a life worth living. There is also a much-needed message about everyone just wants to feel seen and heard because “it hurts to be ignored.”
Mental health is an area that we must focus on more because, as a society, we need to be able to talk openly and honestly about mental health and depression, especially amongst male and minority communities, which this film does a great job of highlighting. If nothing else, this film shows us that it’s okay to need help and that doesn’t make you less of a person and that we are all just searching for meaning in our lives, but we have to be open to finding it.
They say that comedy is the best way to deal with our pain and the truth, and On the Count of Three shows us how right that is.