#SUNDANCE: “ON THE COUNT OF THREE”
Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
Best friends Val (Jerrod Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbott) are having a tough go of it. Val is feeling out of control in his life being stuck at a job he hates and the fear of becoming a father. Kevin tried to kill himself three days ago and now sits in a psychiatric hospital attempting to convince the doctors he’s fine. When Val visits Kevin he decides to break him out. This leads to the two make a pact to end their lives by days end.
This darkly comedic debut feature from Director Jerrod Carmichael is about mental illness, a failed mental health system, the right to bear arms and a love letter to friendship. There are tonal shifts that happen within the script, written by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, but they work. These shifts happen while examining the past traumas of Kevin and Val and pivoting to their binding friendship. There is a brutal honesty that happens between best friends that’s often humorous. Additionally, there’s the ability to trust and confide your darkest truths in a best friend that’s impossible with anyone else. Katcher and Welch incorporate the reality of this relationship within the script and Carmichael controls the shifts on screen.
Not only does Carmichael steers this complex, layered film he also gives a strong performance. Of the two, Val is more level-headed and analytical. His decision to end his life comes from a place of recent depression and loss of control. Carmichael shows this in calculated doses, slowly exposing one layer of his character at a time. On the other hand, Kevin has had horrific trauma happen to him since childhood. A doctor who was supposed to help him, assaulted him. Whenever he has tried to get help, it hasn’t worked. This has made him feel that suicide is the only option. Abbott does a tremendous job of embodying the anguish Kevin carries and the weight of his choice. Further, he has impressive control of switching between a state of calm and unleashed anger.
Throughout, we are left wondering if the two will actually follow through with their pact. Without giving anything away, the ending leaves room for the suicide debate to be discussed. The same goes for the right to bear arms. Throughout this day-in-the-life story, Kevin references the negatives and positives of guns, which they intend to use for their pact. At moments within the script, we see the argument for guns when in a controlled setting, as in the scene at the shooting range. But we also witness the heartbreaking reality of what happens when a gun is in the hands of someone in an uncontrolled setting, this is shown multiple times throughout.
Carmichael makes an assured feature debut that tackles many controversial topics. Overall, On The Count of Three is a poignant look at mental health and the beautiful bond of friendship. It has genuine chemistry between Carmichael and Abbott. And Tiffany Haddish makes an impact with only one scene.
On The Count of Three screens at Sundance:
Live Premiere: January 29 at 9 PM (EST)
On-Demand (available for 24 hours): January 31 at 10 AM (EST)