On the Count of Three – first-look review

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There is a scene, about two thirds into Jerrod Carmichael’s directorial debut On the Count of Three, in which Kevin (Sundance regular Christopher Abbott) is at the wheel of an obnoxious yellow Jeep, swigging from a bottle of Maker’s Mark, screaming along to Papa Roach’s suicide anthem Last Resort. It’s an absurd moment, but given that the idea of killing yourself is completely unthinkable to a lot of people, it also kind of makes total sense. After all: one of the funniest things to me about all my suicidal ideation is how dramatic it is. Banal and dramatic and pointless and monumental all in the same breath.

This absurdity isn’t easy to capture on screen, and On the Count of Three is an uneven movie, not quite sure how to balance its bleak subject matter with the comedy credentials of its writers and director/star. Even the premise seems hard to deliver on: best friends Kevin and Val (Carmichael) are at breaking point, and decide to commit suicide together. That is, after they’ve had one last day together, where they can tie up a few loose ends. Unfortunately writers Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch paint themselves into a bit of a corner here: when your narrative end point is a double suicide, you’re inevitably waiting for Chekhov’s Gun(s) to go off.

If On the Count of Three’s weak point is its script, Abbott and Carmichael just about manage to keep things on track. They make for an excellent double act, bickering and jabbing at each other but undercutting petty hostility with a sort of tenderness that’s simmering but unmistakable. They have believable chemistry, and Carmichael’s monotone tempers Abbott’s manic buzzing. A magnetic odd couple, it’s fun enough to see them tool around in Val’s hideous Jeep talking about their suicidal impulses and getting into trouble, but unfortunately the script has other ideas and tacks on a pregnancy subplot which feels like it undermines the emotional weight of Kevin and Val’s mental health struggles.

Running at just under 90 minutes long, the film suffers from a rushed third act, as if Katcher and Welch suddenly ran out of ideas and had to pull an ending out of nowhere. It’s disappointing, because the two central performances are compelling and an exploration of male mental health and suicide feels timely and important. But the comic glibness with with On the Count of Three starts isn’t maintained, and the ending feels like a betrayal of characters who we were just starting to care about. But for Abbott, it’s another fine showcase of a consistently interesting actor, and doing double duty as star and director, Carmichael establishes himself as someone we’ll hopefully be seeing a lot more from in the future.

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