Home » ‘On the Count of Three’ Review – About as Dark and Funny as Comedy Can Get | Sundance 2021

‘On the Count of Three’ Review – About as Dark and Funny as Comedy Can Get | Sundance 2021

by Nicolás Delgadillo
Christopher Abbott and Jerrod Carmichael as seen in the Sundance 2021 film On the Count of Three

On the Count of Three is a must-see just from the premise alone: Two depressed and suicidal best friends make a pact to kill each other at the end of one last consequence-free day. That’s some seriously morbid stuff, but director Jerrod Carmichael – most known for his stand-up and NBC’s The Carmichael Show – along with writers Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch turn the film into a macabre comedy with a razor-sharp wit. It’s a delicate balancing act in more ways than one, making the film constantly feel like it’s on rocky ground, but the kind of resigned and nihilistic sense of humor it possesses perfectly captures the mood of the current zeitgeist.

Kevin (Christopher Abbott) has spent the past few days in a mental hospital following a recent suicide attempt, and his longtime friend Val (Carmichael) isn’t doing so hot himself. After he is promoted at his soul-sucking job, Val decides to hang himself in the bathroom stall, only to be interrupted by his unknowing coworker loudly singing to himself as he takes a leak next to him. It’s the film’s first big laugh – as Val undoes his makeshift noose, his look of weary aggravation is immediately relatable. He may want to die, but he’s not going out like that

After helping bust Kevin out, the two buddies come to a mutual agreement. Life is shit and neither of them want to continue living, so why not help each other out? In what is probably not the best method of ending one’s life, the two point guns at each other’s heads, with the intention of shooting at the same time. But first, they have some personal business to attend to. For Kevin, it’s confronting his childhood abuser, Dr. Brenner (a surprise Henry Winkler). For Val, it’s standing up to his father (J.B. Smoove). Once that’s taken care of, they will pull the trigger.

Needless to say, things don’t go exactly as planned, and the pair are thrown into a variety of misadventures and darkly funny situations. As the day goes on and the boys get involved in car chases, gas station stick ups, and a fistfight set to a McDonald’s commercial jingle, On the Count of Three turns itself into a typical buddy comedy, albeit one with a much more morbid setup. Carmichael and Abbott are fantastic, successfully selling the heart of the film: its core friendship. We’re easily able to believe that Val and Kevin are indeed the best of friends, ones willing to die and kill for each other – which is, horribly, exactly what they have planned. Having someone to share your longing for death with is extremely relatable, funny enough. 

It almost feels more rare now to find somebody who isn’t seriously depressed; a pretty bleak indicator of where we’re at as a society right now. The film touches on some of that general atmosphere of gloominess but it mostly keeps things personal, much to its advantage. It does have an obvious trajectory of “hey, maybe life is worth living after all”, but watching Val and Kevin steadily begin to appreciate the day is a heartwarming and hilarious time. Oh, and this film has the best use of Papa Roach ever, so.

★ ★ ★ 1/2

One the Count of Three premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

Check out more of our festival coverage here!

Follow Senior Film Critic Nicolás Delgadillo on Twitter: @NickyD715

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