by Nuha Hassan
Jerrod Carmichael’s On the Count of Three opens up with two best friends agreeing to make a suicide pact and setting out to complete an unfinished business before the day ends. Carmichael’s directorial debut is a buddy flick with anger and humour, but he never loses sight of the painful themes presented in the movie. Even with the terrible heartbreaking story at the centre, Carmichael manages to make the audience laugh because of the absurd situations the two best friends are involved in. On the Count of Three manages to show the audience the seriousness of men’s mental health and how the characters don’t try to undermine themselves.
After Val’s (Carmichael) supervisor informs him that he might be getting a promotion at his gravel business, he decides to quit and attempts suicide in the men’s bathroom with his belt. His best friend Kevin (Christopher Abbot) is at the hospital after attempting to commit suicide three days prior. Val helps Kevin escape from the hospital and makes a proposition to commit suicide together by shooting at each other with a handgun. However, Kevin hesitates and prefers to spend one more day taking care of a few things, so they mutually agree to hold the suicide until that evening. Val and Kevin take themselves on a journey through their youth, where they finally confront some of the buried secrets and trauma before they die.
On the Count of Three captures sensitive topics such as child molestation and abuse. Val had a difficult relationship with his father. In one scene, the duo visits Val’s father (J.B. Smoove), who is a recovering addict and confronts him about the money that his father owes him. When Val insists that his father must return the money to him, his attitude towards his son changes from contrite to violent. The audience sees Val’s true colours on screen and stands up to his father, who abused and used him for his gain. Kevin wants to kill his former child therapist (Henry Wrinkler), who abused him when he was a little boy. His childhood abuse and the unhelpful therapy is a factor in Kevin’s fractured worldview. But these delicate materials are treated sensitively and confront some of the deep-rooted issues of their lives, despite the contrast between their problems.
Another factor that is presented sensitively is the issue of men’s mental health. On the Count of Three shows how unabashed the two men are discussing how they want to commit suicide and at one point, Val mentions that it would find him comfort if he were to end his life immediately. “Not waking up tomorrow is the most beautiful thought I’ve had in a long time.” It’s an expected reaction from someone who is not content with the trajectory of their life. The movie doesn’t try to romanticise mental illness but utilises uncomfortable humour in between these very serious scenes. Each of the tragedies is grounded in Val and Kevin’s lives and their journey to find the ultimate conclusion to their trauma and grief.
On the Count of Three escalates into chaos and builds a momentum that reminds the audience that this is not a conventional story. It sets the audience with the thrill of the moment but for some, the ending might be a bit disappointing since one of the friends has a revelation about his life. Carmichael and Abbot balance each other out. Where the former offers a quieter performance, the latter brings intensity and playfulness to his role. On the Count of Three is an exhilarating movie and performance by the two actors, which tackles different and difficult issues that are mostly hard to translate to the screen. But Carmichael does an excellent job to blend humour and the seriousness of the mental illness, and most importantly, it dives into the lifelong friendship of two people.