Jerrod Carmichael’s directorial debut plays to his strengths. The filmmaker is best known for his ability to find humor in the darkest of subjects, and in On The Count of Three he mines pitch-black laughs out of two depressed friends with a suicide pact.
Carmichael plays Val, who ostensibly has his life together but cannot bear the thought of living it. Having decided to end it all, he springs his best friend Kevin (Christopher Abbott) out of a mental institution where he is recovering following his most recent suicide attempt. Their reasons for killing themselves are different but there is a tender sweetness in their decision to go out together.
Carmichael is excellent at doing exactly what he does best: restrained monotone humor that expresses deep sensitivity. Christopher Abbot is a revelation playing a tragic loser who feels plucked from Safdie Brothers movie – complete with a terrible blonde dye job. Abbot leans into his comic abilities we’ve seen hints of in Catch 22, Girls, and Black Bear, and delivers hilarious lines, matching and at times even surpassing Carmichael’s comic chops.
While the jokes about Papa Roach and the 2nd amendment elicit laughs, On The Count of Three is a dark film and not glib about its subject matter. These characters are in a profound amount of pain and the only way out is bleak and permanent. The world these men inhabit is cruel and remorseless and made to feel grimmer still by casting J.B. Smoove and Henry Winkler against type as abusive men. This film is not one you’ll walk away from happy but it is one that finds such tenderness and humor in desolation, it’s impossible to not be impressed.
For more Sundance coverage, be sure to check out our Sundance 2021 preview on all the must-see movies from this year’s festival.