Jerrod Carmichael's On the Count of Three is an interesting commentary on the difference between angry self-pity and true mental illness.

Sundance Film Review: On the Count of Three


On the Count of Three
Director: Jerrod Carmichael 

Valparaiso Pictures
Premiere: 01.29, 7:00 p.m.

Dark comedy—that is to say truly dark, pitch-black comedy—is a tricky thing to pull off, but when it works, it can be something special. On The Count of Three doesn’t entirely work, but it doesn’t entirely fail, either.

Val (Jerrod Carmichael, Neighbors) has reached a place where he feels the only way out is to end things. But he considers himself a bit of a perpetual failure, so he figures he could use some help. As luck would have it, Val’s best friend, Kevin (Christopher Abbott, It Comes At Night, Catch-22), is recovering from a failed suicide attempt, so he seems like the perfect partner for executing this double-suicide plan. But before they go, they have some unfinished business to attend to, and they spend their last day making sure that if they are going to go out, they won’t have any regrets, and above all else, that they are in control.

Carmichael, a stand-up comedian-turned-actor, makes his directorial debut with On The Count of Three, which is part–slacker comedy and part–heavy drama. In many ways, it plays like it’s’ going for a Big Lebowski sensibility, but at times it comes out more like Dumb & Dumber as made by Paul Schraeder. The script by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch (Ramy, The Carmichael Show) does have some funny moments, but when it’s serious, it’s gritty and unsettling, and the darkest plot elements are downright disturbing. 

By far the strongest element of On the Count of Three is the committed and nuanced performance by Abbott, who makes quite an impression as the deeply troubled Kevin. Whatever else doesn’t work about the movie, there’s no denying the raw reality of this angry and confused young man determined to empower himself and his friend, even if he hasn’t got the faintest idea what he’s doing or how to do it. The tragedy of the film lies in the differences between one of the men wanting a quick fix and the other truly wanting out, and that is very well captured by both actors, and their chemistry together is very strong. Henry Winkler (Happy Days) plays a small but pivotal role as Kevin’s childhood psychologist, and it’s a good and very different performance for him. My fondness for Winkler is the main reason I saw this film, and without giving anything away, I must say that if you’re going into this because you grew up loving him, you may want to stay away from it for exactly that reason.

Carmichael directs with a confident hand, and displays some definite talent. He’s clearly putting everything he’s got into making this work, and he almost succeeds, but the operative word is “almost.” The script is almost quotable. The more overtly comedic sequences are almost funny enough and the most intensely dramatic moments are almost powerful enough to make it all worthwhile. But unfortunately, On The Count of Three is a hit-and-miss film that I definitely wouldn’t want to watch again, but it does make an impression, and its an interesting commentary on the difference between angry self-pity and true mental illness that I’m finding hard to shake off. –Patrick Gibbs