Sundance 2021 Review: On the Count of Three

Director: Jerrod Carmichael
Script by: Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch
Starring: Jerrod Carmichael and Christopher Abbott
Cinematographer: Marshall Adams

Every year, it seems like the Sundance Film Festival showcases films that need trigger warnings. For Jerrod Carmichael’s On the Count of Three, this is certainly the case. The story follows Val (played by Jerrod Carmichael) at the lowest moments of his life. It’s come to the point where he feels like the only way out of his misery is to just end his life altogether. His day-to-day problems have contributed to such an unbalanced emotional state that he even believes he cannot effectively end his life alone. To that end, he requests the help of his best friend Kevin (Christopher Abbott), who happens to be recovering from a failed suicide attempt of his own. Together, they embark on a journey to handle some unfinished business before they end it all for good.

Jerrod Carmichael has found his niche in On the Count of Three. He takes this script with confidence and quite frankly, directs the hell out of it. In a film centered around hopelessness and mental anguish, there’s a beautiful story about true friendship that shines through with great constancy. This also happens to appropriately depict Val and Kevin’s friendship even as they experience their lows, making it one of the most oddly uplifting and emotionally compelling stories of the Sundance film festival.

As the film progresses, it becomes apparent what set Val and Kevin down this dim ride in the first place. But with the slow reveals come moments of the touching clarity that life is indeed worth living. The way in which the script unravels itself is, at times, uncomfortable. I found myself feeling disappointed that I chuckled at a joke when the entire film is centered around despair. But at the same time, there’s a sense of peace that came with witnessing Val and Kevin living out their final hours together in a way that ushered joy out of me. And that just speaks to the competence of Katcher and Welch’s ability as writers and Carmichael’s compassion and decision-making as a director. To be able to depict a dark and heavy topic with such gentleness and delight is sure to make it a standout of the fest.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Marshall Adams.

While Carmichael’s gift for directing the ever nuanced On the Count of Three is a more gradual manifestation, the chemistry with Christopher Abbott (Kevin) is obvious from the beginning. The friendship throughout the film gradually builds to an emotionally gripping finale that kept me on the edge of my seat. I can’t think of a better duo to play Val and Kevin. Carmichael and Abbott deliver show-stopping performances that surpass the typical bromances in film. When the foundation of their friendship is being a support system for one another, it’s hard not to become emotionally invested in their decisions and what ultimately happens to them. And these two actors do more than justice for these roles.

When it’s all said and done, On the Count of Three is far more than meets the eye. It can certainly be triggering for those who’ve felt so dejected that it seemed like suicide was the only answer. But there’s a light throughout this tunnel. Living your life knowing you have someone who will always have your back is one of life’s greatest treasures. Carmichael’s debut delivers on this in every essence.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.