2021 Sundance Review: On the Count of Three

Director(s): Jerrod Carmichael

Writer(s): Ari Katcher, Ryan Welch

Cast: Christopher Abbott, Jerrof Carmichael, Tiffany Haddish, Henry Winkler

Synopsis: Two guns. Two best friends. And a pact to end their lives when the day is done.

What would you do if you had 24 hours left to live? Jerrod Carmichael’s directorial debut attempts to answer that question as a pair of friends made a one-day pact to kill themselves in the end. On the Count of Three is an emotional and hilarious ride that is laugh out loud funny and genius at the same time.

We are introduced to Kevin, Christopher Abbott, and Val, Jerrod Carmichael, in similar situations, they had attempted to kill themselves. Suicide is a hefty subject matter to tackle, especially in your first feature, but I think Carmichael pulled it off beautifully. When the two decide to kill themselves, it is Kevin who ends up stopping them. He begs for one last day and wants to use this as his formal goodbye to the world. Kevin, who suffers from mental health issues after being molested by his childhood doctor, is played so gracefully by Christopher Abbott. I know Abbott has been making his name known over the past few years, but here he was really given time to shine. His comedic timing was perfect and his chemistry with Carmichael was even better.

Speaking of Carmichael, I never knew this was in him. Usually a character actor in big-budget comedies like Neighbors and The Disaster Artist, Carmichael really shows his stuff in front of and behind the camera. He is able to play this questioning man with doubts about his life, his love, but also with doubts about if he is really interested in losing it all. He proves he has what it takes to be a leading man in any comedy or drama you want to put him in. But he also proves himself as a director, bringing in a plethora of incredible shots and framing. His stylistic choices are what help make the film work as well as it does, and his decisions as a director really prove he has what it takes. Really all of the technical aspects are incredible. Beautiful cinematography, an absolutely powerful score, and great sound design come together for a great top to bottom debut for Carmichael. Not only does he deliver a funny and emotional film, but he also tackles mental health in a very real way. To say I was impressed is an understatement.

But at its bones, this is a story about friendship, and about the lengths you would go to for a friend. While being wildly hilarious, it is also incredibly emotional and nuanced. For the entirety of the film you are questioning whether they are going to follow through with their plan or not, and when things go off the rails a little bit, the friendship between the two really starts to shine through. This isn’t just a film about life or death, we have seen that film play out before, this is a story about life or death in the comfort of the people you love. The love these two had for each other resonated throughout the entire movie and could be felt through the screen. I mean they were the only family that each other had. Each of them had grown up in bad homes and learned to confide in one another, and you could see, even just throughout this one day, just how close they were as friends.

This film also didn’t take the easy road out, which I was worried would happen. This film strangely enough feels like the male version of Thelma and Louise, all the way up to the end. I don’t just mean this in plot points, but in their power of friendship as well. Similar to Thelma and Louise, they don’t build up and sizzle out, they have an extremely powerful climax that I actually wasn’t expecting, and I was expecting a lot. And while it wasn’t the same ending as Thelma and Louise I think it was just as emotionally impactful, and the film’s refusal to take the cheap route made me appreciate it even more. The screenplay for this movie is the perfect amount of “out there” funny with enough heart that should get it some awards love during the 2022 Awards Season. I can already tell you know this is going to be one of my top Best Original Screenplay contenders. Just an exciting, funny, and emotional ride about friendship. I cannot get enough of this movie.

Final: On the Count of Three is a moving and hilarious look at friendship and life. Jerrod Carmichael proves to have some serious skill as a director, and his chemistry with Christopher Abbott is as perfect as you can get. Both Abbott and Carmichael prove their worth as serious actors in Hollywood and will be household names soon enough. The script is as funny as it is touching, and it should be a Best Original Screenplay Contender come the end of the year. This is a film I will watch over and over again, likely with friends.

My Score: A

2021 Sundance Coverage

2021 Film Rankings

Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Marshall Adams

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