Sundance Review: “On The Count of Three”

Year: 2021
Runtime: 84 minutes
Director: Jerrod Carmichael
Writers: Ari Katcher, Ryan Welch
Stars: Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbott, Tiffany Haddish, Henry Winkler

By Morgan Roberts

*Warning: This review discusses suicide and mental health distress*

On the count of 1…2…3. Friends Val (Jerrod Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbott) have planned to have one last day. At the end of the day, they plan to kill themselves in a suicide pact. This comes after both men attempt suicide, Val doing so without anyone knowing and Kevin finding himself in a hospital following his attempt.

“On the Count of Three” (2021) is a rare film examining men’s mental health. We rarely see men being candid about their mental health, and in a time when mental health services have become critical, it is astounding to see a film with two men talking about their struggles with their mental health and how that is not normal for cinema.

Christopher Abbott and Jerrod Carmichael appear in On the Count of Three by Jerrod Carmichael, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Marshall Adams. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

The film itself is extremely heavy. It literally starts with talks of suicide and does not relent from there. It would not be a film to seek out if you are feeling vulnerable. And while in some ways it is refreshing to see men discussing mental health, there lacks any tangible support or options for people in distress or having thoughts of suicide. Instead, it is a dark, one-last-day misadventure that undercuts itself by not facing head on the root of the issue. We get hints of the reasons that led them to this day, to their struggles. However, it loses impact since there is never a deep enough dive to give you the context for these characters.

Despite this, the acting in this film is extremely impressive. Carmichael gives us a window into the complexity of mental health treatment for not just men but Black men. He allows you to see the many facets of Val which have a satisfying conclusion in the end. To me, this film ends up being a showcase for Abbott. Even though the film does not dive deep enough into Kevin’s mental health, Abbott certainly did and is a window for us for some of the murky nature of trauma and exacerbated mental health conditions. Abbott is captivating from start to finish and balances the ever-shifting tone of the film seamlessly.

The film has an interesting premise and a promising foundation, but it does not submerge itself deep enough into plot to give us something substantial. Its saving graces are the performances and the excellent use of Papa Roach’s “Last Resort.”

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline in the U.S. at 800-273-8255 and dial 111, press option 2 in the U.K. for mental health services.

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