Release: Wednesday, August 17, 2022 (Hulu)
Written by: Ari Katcher; Ryan Welch
Directed by: Jerrod Carmichael
Starring: Jerrod Carmichael; Christopher Abbott; J.B. Smoove; Henry Winkler; Tiffany Haddish
Distributor: United Artists Releasing
Jerrod Carmichael is a stand-up comedian known for pushing the envelope with his sets. Now he transposes that edginess to the big screen with his stunningly bold directorial debut On the Count of Three, a radical application of the day-in-the-life style narrative wherein two lifelong friends form a suicide pact.
With supreme confidence the 36-year-old not only directs and produces but also plays Val, a mulch factory worker who has lost the will to live. Following a failed attempt to take his own life, one afternoon he up and quits his job, stops talking to his pregnant girlfriend Natasha (an excellent Tiffany Haddish in limited capacity) and goes to free his friend Kevin (Christopher Abbott) from the psychiatric facility where he’s being kept following his own recent suicide attempt.
He then drives them in his Jeep to behind a strip joint during off-hours and, presenting a pair of pistols, explains to Kevin they have a chance to finally put their suffering behind them, once and for all. Before they go through with the act Kevin convinces Val they should at least celebrate their last day together. If nothing else, they can spend their final hours putting right a few wrongs, bringing their own kind of justice to the doorstep of those who they feel most deserve it.
What ensues is the kind of nomadic trundling you get in a Duplass brothers misadventure, except everything here feels dangerous. This is a movie that truly lives in the moment, a dark thrill ride marked by impulsive behavior and underpinned by a ceaseless, queasy tension. While Val has unfinished business with his abusive alcoholic father (an impressively against-type J.B. Smoove) who still owes his son the thousands of dollars he stole from him years ago, all paths lead to a showdown with one Dr. Brenner (a slimy turn from Henry Winkler), the psychiatrist who sexually abused Kevin as a child.
The script by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch swims in a morass of strong emotions and twisted morals. Even at a brisk 86 minutes it can be challenging to endure, but like Owen Pallett’s score, a moody accompaniment that’s ominous one scene and almost whimsical in another, their story prefers variation over monotony. There is hope and even humor in this desperate last hoorah, one that also involves impromptu dirt bike races, a confrontation at a gas station (with entirely unexpected results) and exhilarating cop chases.
Finding a way to turn a positive out of so many negatives, On the Count of Three is made not just possible but palatable through the compassion the filmmakers demonstrate. That really comes through in the quality of the performances; while everyone takes their role seriously, Carmichael and Abbott, through wildly contrasting emotional registers, carry pain in a way that doesn’t feel performed as much as lived. The commitment results in a powerful testament to the support system of friendship, as well as a scathing indictment of the failure of institutions and of individuals who should know better.
** If you or a loved one is in crisis, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or the Crisis Text Line (Text ‘TALK’ to 741741) to talk to someone who can help. **
Moral of the Story: On the Count of Three is not casual moviegoing fare but it’s also not an exercise in audience abuse, even when the mood remains heavy and dialogue cuts deep. While I do think this is a very important movie to have been made, I struggle to fully recommend such upsetting material to a wide audience.
Rated: hard R
Running Time: 86 mins.
Quoted: “Thanks for hitting my dad in the head with the tire iron. You’re a good friend Kevin.”
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