In its opening moments, Jerrod Carmichael’s debut feature announces that its two leads are ready to give up. While Kevin (Christopher Abbott) has been in a facility for attempting suicide the previous week, Val (Carmichael himself) has had it with his sorry job and is unable to commit to his long-time girlfriend. Next thing you know, the two of them run away from the facility Kevin’s in and are in a parking lot beside a strip club. They both have guns trained to each other’s head as a part of a suicide-pact. They are going to off themselves on the count of three but something just doesn’t feel right. Kevin, out of the blue, decides to give themselves one last day to say goodbye and make amends. It’s just the kind of Bucket-list-tick movie that shouldn’t work but does.
Val seems to have failed in life excessively. He considers himself a complete wreck who can’t possibly come out of a wrong situation as he can’t see through the darkness. The light at the end of the tunnel is always switched off for him. While his day job consists of a 9 to 5 wager, his inability to stretch out his cigarette breaks in the right order shows how he just isn’t meant to be there. After another of his failed suicide attempts, he decides to just switch off and give his friend Kevin a visit.
Kevin, on the other hand, has been in depression all his life. There are things in his past that have been hanging around his neck like a noose. In spite of years of therapy and medication, he just isn’t able to cater to his bleak existence. He has been bullied all his life and a certain doctor who was supposed to help him fucked him up even further. Val’s visit and a spur of the moment decision to run away, lights-up his otherwise sorry day of self-pity and nihilism as he answers his doctors.
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On paper, On the Count of Three feels like a revenge arc that motions through a day in the life of two depressed friends righting the wrongs the world has done to them. In reality, it is a more pertinent, wise, and rib-tickling black comedy that takes a look at men’s perspectives about their boring lives. The film gives equal weight to its two characters who serve as two plot points about suicidal people. While one of them represents the side that can’t be helped in any possible way, the other can still be pulled out of the last few moments of despair.
Co-written by Ari Katcher & Ryan Welch (of Hulu‘s RAMY fame) the duo has peppered the screenplay with moments of pure comedic genius and genuine emotional warmth. The film presents a wide-scoped perspective of how male mental health is often treated in society. Men are supposed to just tough it out or let it go, or else they are termed as sissies. Kevin is angry at just how unprecedentedly sad his life has been. Only occasionally has he met people who weren’t assholes and the very few he has met have been the only ray of hope for him. He is appreciative of Val’s friendship that has been the high point of his life. His feelings are reciprocated in the same manner making a strong case for holding on.
In the bleakness of the self-loathing, the film also talks about how being ignored is one of the biggest reasons for denial of one’s mental state. The film understands the way young minds are often tamed to follow the wrong things at the wrong time and it’s too late to sometimes pull out of it. The desolate moments in the narrative are carefully punctuated with wry humor that is laugh out loud funny. Most of it comes from Carmichael’s stint as a stand-up comedian. The dialogues are persistently fun and relatable – at least from a male point of view.
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On the Count of Three goes to some really dark places and the ending – though inevitable, feels like it doesn’t completely go with the kind of kinetic tone the film maintained up until then. There are only a few missteps that the film takes and for a first feature, Carmichael shows great promise as a filmmaker. His characters, motivation, and arcs all fit into the edgy extremes the film goes to. This is one of those cynical ideas that can go wrong at any point in time but it’s a feat that the film manages to keep a sturdy balance between the reason for the male friendship and the dilemma of trying to kill one another.
On the Count of Three is about the demons we carry within ourselves. It is about empathy in a life that needs every shred of it in order for some people to keep living. The film revels in the chaos of everyday life, making the occasional implausibility feel earned rather than desperate. Purposefully unstable and direct, the film marks another great performance from Christopher Abbot ably supported by Carmichael. It is a risky game that the film plays as the self-serious tone muxed with the comedy doesn’t sit right with everyone – especially when it uses Papa Roach’s ‘Cut my Life Into Pieces’ as a sort of suicide anthem; but that just depends on how well you can take a joke. I sure did!
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DIRECTOR: Jerrod Carmichael
SCREENWRITER(s): Ari Katcher, Ryan Welch
EDITOR: Tom Eagles
DOP: Marshall Adams
MUSIC: Owen Pallett
COUNTRY: UNITED STATES
RUNTIME: 84 MINUTES
LINKS: IMDB, ROTTEN TOMATOES