Sundance 2021 Review: ‘On the Count of Three’

On the Count of Three begins on an intense level as Val (Jerrod Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbott) with guns drawn at each other at a strip club in a slapdash suicide pact. They gaze at each other’s faces, just knowing this is the end to lives that they feel won’t progress. Mind you, these are best friends. How did they get to this point where the troubles of life seem to be too much to bear? The directorial debut from Carmichael takes place for an entire day in the lives of two men who have laid their arms down in front of their internal crisis. While it may seem intense at first, there’s a deeper investigation into how men process emotions and the pivotal role of friendship in one’s life.

When the movie re-centers itself, we meet Val at his mulch plant job. The mundane has gotten to his psyche as he ignores calls from his girlfriend Natasha (Tiffany Haddish). A brief meeting with his boss where he says that he’s worth more than his current position. This sends him over the edge and an attempted suicide attempt at work is interrupted by a stray co-worker. On the other side is Kevin, who is in a mental health facility for trying to commit suicide earlier that week. In speaking with a psychiatrist, we find out that his issues are more pronounced and long-tenured since he was a child.

Both men come together at different ends of dread. Val seems to be tired of a life where nothing seems impactful. Kevin wants to break out, but is chained to trauma of the past that fills him with rage into his 30s. Their friendship is joined by their disdain of their past and present – ranging from child abuse and accusations of molestation from a child psychiatric doctor from Kevin’s past, Mr. Brenner (Henry Winkler). The movie is a dark comedy twist on “what would you do on your last day.” As the men are concerned, they can throw caution to the wind and settle every score they had pending.

Through the renegade-like 85 minute tempo, both men find out more about what their respective purposes of or lack thereof. At first, activities seem to air on the heart of better memories. They go to an old motocross place where they used to work as kids and ride BMX bikes. Trying to reclaim one of the more positive aspects of their youth. As the list gets further, the situations get tougher. There’s a murder plot to kill the doctor that traumatized Kevin. They visit Val’s absentee father Lyndell (J.B. Smoove) who stole money from him when he was younger. Even through all the heaviness, writers Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch try to inject some funny moments within context.

Carmichael and Abbott work off each other well. Val is the straight man to Kevin’s intense, scattershot energy. Where Val wants a quiet moment, Kevin is there to blast Papa Roach‘s ‘Last Resort.’ While it may feel their energies wouldn’t match, the audience can see that they are best friends in the purest sense. One of the best scenes in the movie happens during an injury to Val when they both go to a gas station. The attendant is dismissive and Kevin acts as though he is going to attempt a robbery. In reality, he pays for items and says that all they wanted is to be listened to.

Carmichael’s debut highlights the meaningful role of listening and asking for help regarding mental health. Especially in men, who tend to internalize their issues under the guise that they won’t look strong. In this movie, there are two characters at their wits end, but find out more about each other in one day than they have in a lifetime. Based from confronting things and knowing that somebody will be there in the end.

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Author: Murjani Rawls View all posts by
Journalist, Self-published author of five books, podcast host, and photographer since 2014, Murjani Rawls has been stretching the capabilities of his creativity and passions, Rawls has as a portfolio spanning through many mediums including music, television, movies, and more. Operating out of the New York area, Rawls has photographed over 200+ artists spanning many genres, written over 700 articles ranging displaying his passionate aspirations to keep evolving as his years in media continue.

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