You know the saying “check on your strong friends” – the friend that hides the discomfort in plain sight only to tell you they’re fine but deep down that same friend is fighting a battle that cannot be explained or reasoned with. On the Count of Three opens with a sense of shock value – two people pointing handguns at one another in hopes that both pull the trigger as a double suicide. Those two people are school friends Val (Jerrod Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbot). It’s not that a standoff is inherently shocking, but more so the circumstances behind the two friends pointing guns at each other that lends the horrific scenario one to shy away from.
After one gun goes off when the picture fades back in, Kevin gets cold feet and the film, directed by Carmichael shows the events leading up to the opening moment. Both commit to helping each other go through with killing themselves. It’s learned that Kevin attempted to 3 days prior while Val made an attempt and failed earlier in the day after receiving a promotion where he works. As far as subject material goes, the screenplay written by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch is dark and uncomfortable, something not many of us are capable of understanding from looking at a situation from the outside in.
The aspect of mental health and the instability some face with their disease is uncompromising based on the individual’s situation is presented with strong conviction in the narrative. While difficult for some to put in words, the outlets are easily available. That’s why the artist Logic’s song titled 1-800-273-8255 blew up the way it did 5 years ago along with the suicide prevention hotline, the phone number in which the song is based on. The more people are open about it, especially those with clout or influence, the easier it is to talk to someone with an impartial point of view. In Kevin’s case, the song he associates his mental health struggles with is Scars by Papa Roach. Just like the device used to play it on, an iPod nano from the looks of it, Kevin is holding onto a lot of previous baggage that he can’t let go of.
Once the double suicide attempt is foiled, both Val and Kevin vow to spend one final day together, doing what they please in the few hours that remain. The only certainty is at the end of this final day, the two friends commit to their promise. They only have to make it through. Taking place during a singular day, both men work up the course to face some of their past trauma’s. Kevin is forced to interact with a childhood bully while his wife stands there being completely ignorant to the harmful situations her husband put another human being in. Let along the damage done years ago from the bully who now has a family and didn’t learn how to grow up, the wife laughing it off uncomfortably is just as hurtful to someone struggling.
It’s in this one scene alone that Christopher Abbot gives a rawness to his outstanding performance. Kevin’s mental health issues may have been triggered by this bully and it’s acted in a way that those who don’t know the feeling of depression can relate to it. To add more onto Kevin’s trauma dish, the film opens on him in a hospital that can be dated back to his therapy with Dr. Brenner (Henry Winkler). Christopher’s performance is a rush of emotions brought to life by a gritty mindset that feels the heavy burden of his prolonged life on his shoulders.
While with Val, his trauma begins with his father Lyndell’s (J. B. Smoove) abuse which is confronted head on, on top of his relationship with Natasha (Tiffany Haddish). Carmichael approaches Val with an apathetic cowardice that’s ready to give up at the first sign of hardship. Val is weak but as the day progresses, meaning is found in the mundane, the very thing Val was trying to escape. Carmichael sprinkles in a touch of purpose throughout the density of the subject matter and for Val – he recognizes life is precious and worth living. One bad day shouldn’t determine the rest of your life. Added to Carmichael’s performance is a genuine approach to such sensitivity.
Coming in at just 86 minutes, On the Count of Three moves briskly as Kevin and Val embark on their mission to get in a last effort before ending it all. Only as the day progresses do the two question their choices to end it all and find meaning in what they already have. Happiness doesn’t take much and while the focus of the day is on Kevin and Val, the supporting cast including the harsh J. B. Smoove, and the honest Tiffany Haddish add poignancy to the heavy subject matter. In addition to the mental awareness, the screenplay by Katcher and Welch adds a voice of social commentary surrounding mental health and gun violence to an already ambitious undertaking. At times, the more than a few driving scenes can become increasingly cumbersome but the payoff of the journey is worth the piercing silences that the two are likely avoiding any emotionally driven break down.
Screenplay By: Ari Katcher & Ryan Welch
Directed By: Jerrod Carmichael
Music By: Owen Pallett
Cinematography: Marshall Adams
Starring: Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbot, Tiffany Haddish, J. B. Smoove, Lavell Crawford, Henry Winkler
Where to Watch: Hulu
Release Date: May 13, 2022
Running Time: 1 Hour 26 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%