Personally, suicide is not a laughing matter at all to me. To be frank with you, I was suicidal more than once throughout my 39-year life, and, as far as I remember, I actually attempted to kill myself twice. Although the reasons for my suicide attempts feel rather silly whenever I reflect on those depressing moments, I also remember well how I was not so willing to live another day to say the least, and I am glad that I eventually managed to keep going in both cases.
That is the main reason why I am usually quite sensitive to movies about suicide, and some of them annoyed or infuriated me for the crass handling of their serious main subject, but I am happy to report that Jerrod Carmichael’s debut feature film “On the Count of Three” amused and engaged me more than expected. While never overlooking the dark sides of its story, the movie humorously bounces from one narrative point to another along with its two deeply troubled characters, and you will come to care more about what may happen to them in the end – even while having some good chuckles from what may be the last day of their life.
At the beginning, we are introduced to Val, played by Carmichael, and his best friend Kevin (Christopher Abbott) as they are respectively going through another desperate day of their life. A few days ago, Kevin attempted suicide, but he fortunately failed and then was sent to a local mental hospital. As he talks with a psychiatrist assigned to him, we come to gather that he already tried to kill himself several times before, and he is not so willing to cooperate with his psychiatrist because there is no solution for his ongoing mental predicament in his depressed viewpoint.
In case of Val, he looks mostly fine on the surface as beginning to work at his workplace, but he turns out to have his own mental problem even though he does not tell anything about this to others around him. When his boss notifies that he will get a promotion, he is not cheered up at all, and he has also distanced himself a lot from his girlfriend for some personal reason, even though he once considered proposing to her. At one point, he actually tries to kill himself, but he only ends up miserably failing to kill himself, and that reminds me of how miserable my two suicide attempts in the past were. I tried to suffocate myself to death in both cases, but I only found that, like him, I was not so willing to push myself beyond that grim point of no return.
Not long after that, Val comes to have another idea for his suicide. Knowing well how suicidal Kevin has been for years, he decides to commit a suicide along with Kevin, so we soon see him helping Kevin escape from that mental hospital. Val has already prepared two guns for them, and all they will have to do is shooting each other’s head at a spot right next to a local strip club.
However, not so surprisingly, it turns out that both Val and Kevin are not so willing to pull the trigger as promised to each other. While they are still fairly suicidal, they decide to enjoy themselves a bit together before finally killing each other, and, because they have nothing to lose for now, they also concoct an impromptu plan associated with someone mainly responsible for Kevin’s damaged mental status.
Now, this feels like a setup for your typical life-affirming drama, but the screenplay by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, which received the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award when the movie was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival early in last year, does not soften or cheapen its story and characters at all as often wielding its morbid sense of black humor. While there are a few moments of cheerfulness for our two troubled heroes, the movie shows us more of how pathetic and pitiful they are in many aspects, and that is particularly exemplified well by when Val tries to have some reconciliation with her girlfriend later in the story. Although he is sincere in his attempt, his girlfriend sees through him right from the beginning, and she does not pull any punch at all as clearly discerning the origin of his ongoing problems.
During the last act, the situation becomes a lot more serious than before due to an unexpected narrative turn, but the movie still balances itself well between absurdity and gravitas as its two main characters inevitably arrive at a crucial point where they must respectively make a choice for each other. I will not go into details about how the movie makes an exit along with them, but I can tell you instead that it does earn the poignant feelings generated from its very last shot.
As the center of the film, Carmichael and his co-star Christopher Abbott, a talented actor who has steadily risen since his heartbreaking breakthrough performance in “James White” (2015), deftly convey to us the complicated emotional bond between their characters, and they are supported well by several notable performers, who have each own moment to shine at the fringe of the story. As Val’s no-nonsense girlfriend, Tiffany Haddish, who shows more of the serious side of her considerable talent here as she previously did in Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter” (2021), steals every second of her brief appearance in the film, and J. B. Smoove, Lavell Crawford, and Henry Winkler are also well-cast in their small but substantial supporting roles.
Overall, “On the Count of Three” is an entertaining black comedy which deals its sensitive main subject with enough humor and thoughtfulness, and I admire Carmichael’s economic storytelling as well as how he draws good performances from himself and several other main cast members in the film. To be frank with you, I feel a bit better about my inconsequential life after watching it, and that is what good films often can do, isn’t it?