Jerrod Carmichael was already having a great 2022, with Primetime Emmy nominations for his fantastic HBO comedy special Rothaniel and a memorable turn as host of Saturday Night Live. Now, he makes his directorial debut with On The Count of Three (Hulu), the story of two best friends whose impromptu suicide pact runs into delays, revelations, and hard life lessons. And improbably, there’s comedy made from moments of peril. At the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, count of three screenwriters Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch won the Waldo Salt Screenwriters Award, and Carmichael was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize.
The Gist: “It’s been a hell of a run. I love you, man. You’re my best friend.” And the guns Val (Jerrod Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbott) are sticking in each other’s faces are an indicator of just how close these two are. Val just quit his job down at Ritchie’s Seed & Feed after an annoying coworker interrupted his attempt to strangle himself with a belt in a bathroom stall. And Kevin, under observation in a facility after an attempted suicide a few days before, was more than willing to take the leap with his best friend when Val showed up to spring him. “We’ll do it right,” Val tells Kevin of their plan to commit double-suicide. “We’ll do it together.”
But if they’re not going to be living, there won’t be any consequences, which is what inspires the duo to keep living long enough to kill Dr. Brenner (Henry Winkler), the psychologist who molested Kevin when he was a little boy. Val cautions his buddy to make a plan before they enter the office, but Kevin says he’s going to “vibe it out.” “Vibe it out?” Val scoffs. “It’s fucking murder, dude, not a weekend at Coachella.”
When things don’t go exactly as vibed at Brenner’s office, Val and Kevin have a little more time to kill. They go to a gun range, and race bikes at the dirt track where they used to work. They perform an impromptu gas station robbery. And Val listens to a voicemail from his girlfriend Natasha (Tiffany Haddish), who he’s been avoiding for a week. She’s pregnant, and that only makes him more scared. They also visited Val’s dad Lyndell (JB Smoove), and old wounds from abuse and abandonment are torn open.
To live another day with his best friend, to examine his own life and uncover what within it has true meaning, has adjusted the death wish that began Val’s day. For Kevin, his issues stemming from molestation and insufficient foster care and chronic depression are more lasting. The joy of riding dirtbikes and bullshitting with his best buddy might be all he has left, and that might not be enough.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of? gully, on Prime Video, spins more destruction and hedonism into its coming-of-age tale. But like On The Count of Threeit makes mental illness and depression personal, and includes terrific performances from Jacob Latimore and Jonathan Majors.
Performance Worth Watching: Jerrod Carmichael is a stunner behind the camera here in his directorial debut. But he’s captivating in front of it, too, giving Val a simmering, closed-off disaffection that only dissipates when he’s chopping it up with Kevin.
Memorable Dialog: “The other night, I got a phone call that said my best friend tried to commit suicide, and I wasn’t even sad,” Val tells Kevin. “I mean, it made perfect sense to me. I have those thoughts. Think about it all the time, and it brings me comfort. It brings me relief. Not waking up tomorrow is the most beautiful thought I’ve had in a long time.”
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: Val is telling Kevin about his day in the life – “I got nothing new or interesting to say. So I fill the silence telling stories from day, reliving moments I wish I hadn’t lived in the first fucking place” – and Kevin is assessing his friend’s level of depression, what kind of treatments he might seek. After a life spent in and out of treatment and doctor’s offices, he’s picked up the lingo, but Val stops him short. “Can we just die?” On The Count of Three is masterful in these moments, as the two best friends carp back on forth on each other, blending the profound mental and emotional anguish that’s led both of them to the brink with quick asides, childhood memories, and bleakness always attaching itself casually to their lasting jump. “Hey Kevin? Thanks for hitting my dad over the head with a tire iron earlier. You’re a good friend, man.”
Our Call: STREAM IT. Often austere and grim, On The Count of Three, incredibly, is also often quite funny. It marks a fine directorial debut from Jerrod Carmichael, and he and Christopher Abbot keep the mood spiked with levity even as their characters stare down finality.
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 988.