On the Count of Three
Front Porch Pictures, 2021
Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch / Jerrod Carmichael
📷 : Used with permission, Izzy Aghahowa (izzyaghahowa.co.uk)
Movies and TV shows with heavy subjects
Every now and then, you come across a feel-good movie that leaves you positive and optimistic. You leave the theater (or your couch) and you cannot stop smiling as you recall the joyous moments the characters on screen just experienced. You may even find yourself wishing that your life was like that movie and strive to make it so.
On the Count of Three is not one of those movies.
Actor/comedian Jerrod Carmichael’s directorial debut centers around Val (Carmichael, Neighbors) and Kevin (Christopher Abbott, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), two best friends in their early adulthoods who have lost the will to live. Kevin begins the film in a psychiatric ward after a failed suicide attempt, while Val works at a factory where he despises his co-workers. When quitting time hits, Val heads over to the mental hospital for a visit and breaks Kevin out. He suggests to Kevin that they form a suicide pact, and they decide to live out their last day together, tying up any loose ends they have left.
The film’s grim premise leads you to believe that despite its comedy-leaning co-stars, it has no humor. Quite the reverse, On the Count of Three oscillates between hilarity and melodrama like a bedroom tower fan. One moment, Val and Kevin engage in a petty argument that you might hear in a high school slacker movie. The next, they find themselves in a dangerous confrontation of their own doing. For instance, not long after they nearly shoot each other early in the movie, they head to the gun range despite Kevin’s anti-gun stance. Kevin feels an adrenaline rush shooting a gun for the first time, but as he retrieves the target, we see that not one of the dozen shots he let off even connected with the giant piece of paper.
While we sometimes see buddy comedies gradually get darker in tone, like The Banshees of Inisherin, many of those films stay heading in one direction or the other. On the Count of Three’s teeter-totter act may strike the audience as unusual, but it ultimately holds together, largely due to its underlying theme (and maybe the short running time). No matter what happens in any given scene, the undertone of the two friends planning to take each other’s lives rests in the back of the audience’s minds as a sobering thought. This reality keeps the film from ever reaching wacky, slapstick status where we lose all concern for the well-being of the protagonists.
On the Count of Three proves, like many other buddy comedies, that best friends do not necessarily look, talk, act or even think alike. Val and Kevin’s differences come out not only in the midst of conflict with others but also their seemingly aimless conversations as they drive around. Val hates Kevin’s taste in music and overall verbosity. For much of the movie, he acts as the devil on Kevin’s shoulder, pressuring him even in flippant comments to act on his angry impulses. As with many who play this role to their friends, Val seems surprised when Kevin goes over the edge and only tries to pull him back once he sees the damage being done. On the other hand, Kevin plays the empath in their friendship, vocalizing Val’s hardships and offering performative apologies for institutional racism. His dialogue often reads like that of a first semester African-American Studies major, annoying the emotionally unavailable Val.
Just as one might expect, both friends have backstories of trauma and toxic relationships. The series of events they go through on this particular day largely boil down to getting revenge, or at least closure, on the people who have wronged them. Both start to waver in the sincerity of their suicide pact, but as the day’s events continue to escalate, it becomes clear that regardless of what they choose, their futures are forever damaged, just like their pasts.
Not many films tackle suicide in the form of a buddy comedy; more often, films deal with a main character living out their bucket list in the wake of a terminal diagnosis. The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, comes to mind, as well as a recent release entitled Living. On the Count of Three is a difficult project to find a comp for, except for another 2022 release, Next Exit. Delving more into sci-fi and straight drama, Next Exit revolves around two strangers thrust together in a rental car, traveling to the Bay Area to participate in a medical experiment that emulates suicide. While the two leads are very much at odds, they bond through their trauma, much like Val and Kevin. On the Count of Three is not for the faint of heart, but it will offer some chuckles and strong performances along the way.