The path to making people laugh is a complex and beaten down trail. While Sundance in its history is mostly known as a Mecca of Indie drama, it has played host to some truly incredible comedies. But they have been few and far between.
On the Count of Three comes very close to being a truly memorable Sundance comedy and it gets there by trailblazing a comedy path many have never gone down by being a very dark, gritty, depressing film dealing with suicide.
Jerrod Carmichael came to fame as a stand-up comedian before getting his own show on American Network television. Carmichael makes his feature film directorial debut and does double duty by starring in this modern take on a buddy comedy meets Thelma and Louise.
Carmichael plays Val, a down on his luck dude who hates his job and is falling out of love with his girlfriend. When Val ups and quits his job he decides to go bust his best friend Kevin (Christopher Abbot) out of a Psych ward to help him with a really important job. That job: he wants them both to end their lives at the same time.
What unwinds from there is the pair’s idea of going out with a bang. Of course nothing goes as planned and we see the two go through a series of missteps, chaos, and hysteria. What I’m describing is not what you would expect to be a comedy. But that is what makes On the Count of Three so captivating.
The past year on this planet has been incredibly challenging to most. Whether it is uncertainty, anxiety, or depression, there have been incredible changes and challenges to people’s lives and most have been tested in ways they could have never thought possible. So for a film to focus on two individuals so down on their luck and so beaten down by the world, it is almost as relatable as it ever is going to be. The timing of the film is perfect.
Although the material is heavy and depressing the comedy is non-stop. This would make sense because of the presence of stand up comedians that pop up during the film with Carmichael, J.B Smoove, and Tiffany Haddish. The comedic beats and laughs are vital to getting us through the heaviness that is the suicide pact of Kevin and Val.
As the two decide to tie up loose ends and deliver their own kind of justice to the world, Carmichael with his performance and direction challlenges the audience in ways many filmmakers don’t. There are a myriad of complex issues, characters and decisions that leave the audience conflicted on what to root for.
Carmichael is great, but it is Abbott who deliveres the emotional weight of the entire film. His portrayel of Kevin is heartbreaking and while he isn’t the easiest of people to love, you are infatuated with him from the first moment he blasts Papa Roach’s “Last Resort.” Abbott is funny, charming, and endearing and owns the film.
The script and storyline are what make this film memorable and truly work. It is never predictable and it never feels formulaic. As the film winds down each audience member will take something different from it. For me, it was finding the beauty and levity in the darkest of despair. It’s easy to make people laugh by having someone fart, or showing an old guy get kicked in the nuts. But On the Count of Three found comedy and laughs in examining the struggle that is human existence and that creates a truly memorable film.