On the Count of Three

Directed by: Jerrod Carmichael
Distributed by: United Artists Releasing

Written by Michael Clawson

“On the Count of Three” walks a tonal tightrope as first-time director Jerrod Carmichael mines the bleakness of severe depression for black comedy. The film, based on a script by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, follows childhood friends Val (Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbott) on their last day before they vow to kill themselves together. Val sees little hope for fulfillment in the promotion he’s offered at his blue-collar job, nor in the prospect of marriage to his girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish, who’s given far too little screen time); Kevin has fought depression for his entire life and found little relief from mental health professionals. Each have their own interpersonal loose ends that need tying up before they consummate their suicide pact, and Carmichael locates the comic absurdity in what may or may not be Val and Kevin’s final hours together (the question of whether or not they’ll actually go through with their plan is played for minor humor).

For the most part, the deadpan comedy is well-played (an inspired use of Papa Roach’s “Last Resort” is particularly memorable). But where the film fails quite hard is in feeling less like a character study than an exercise in tone management for its own sake. Kevin and Val both have people from their past with whom they need closure, and those relationships are shallowly drawn. So too is the long-time friendship between Val and Kevin: while Carmichael and the ever-underappreciated Christopher Abbott both turn in solid performances, the sense of history between them as two pals who supposedly go way back together is lacking. Far worse is the ending, which is both abrupt and rather oblivious in the hopeful note it tries to hit.

“On the Count of Three” Trailer

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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