I’ve heard of black comedies before, but this is ridiculous. This film has more triggers than a recovering gambling addict watching live sports on TV (love the game, not the odds). And yet, through the very same ambition and dare that startled me at first, I instantly regard ‘On the Count of Three’ as a memorable and worthwhile film experience.
Directed by stand-up comedian and actor Jerrod Carmichael (‘Bad Neighbours’), ‘On the Count of Three’ opens with Carmichael’s character Val pointing a gun at his friend Kevin’s head, with Kevin likewise pointing a gun directly at him. “One, two, three” - cut to black. Now that’s an opening. We then jump back to meet Val, a depressed blue-collar worker, avoiding phone calls and taking whatever breaks from work he can. He goes to visit his lifelong friend Kevin (Christopher Abbott, ‘Black Bear’), a man who recently tried to commit suicide and is currently residing in a psychiatric hospital. Val breaks Kevin out of the hospital and they make a pact to shoot each other, but only after Kevin convinces Val to spend one last day together alive. This is where the film and the opening sequence meet.
Val and Kevin go about their day in all the ways one might want to spend their last day on earth. They have a good meal, go riding on dirt bikes, plot vengeance against those who wronged them and even try to make amends. Throughout the journey, both Val and Kevin reveal to the audience and themselves what’s led them to this point in their lives - and why, more importantly, do they feel that suicide is the best course of action. Films and literature will frequently shy away from making suicide a resolution to a problem, but as the premise of the film, it is front and centre as it unfortunately is for so many people in real life.
Triggers triggers everywhere, this is not a film for the faint of heart. Mental health and suicide is the obvious thematic protagonist, but racism, gun control, abuse and abortion all feature predominantly enough to prod the audience into thought, though probably not enough for them to stay etched in the mind post the film’s credits.
Somehow through it all, ‘On the Count of Three’ does its very best to make audiences laugh, but it’s careful in where it places the comedy. Gun control in America is an obvious thing to laugh about and is frequently the butt of the jokes, but Carmichael’s background in stand-up allows comedy to likewise shine through less obvious places, like depression and death.
It is a testament to Carmichael and screenwriters Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch that ‘On the Count of Three’ is not just being applauded as a relevant and important picture, but that it has avoided severe backlash at all.
‘On the Count of Three’ features great cameo appearances that audiences audibly approved of in the packed cinema. Henry Winkler (‘The French Dispatch’) is Kevin’s old paediatric psychiatrist, Tiffany Haddish (‘Girls Trip’) is Val’s partner, and J.B. Smoove (TV’s ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’) is his absent father. They all play vital roles in the pair’s last hurrah on Earth, and each approaches their role with the same daunting realism that hovers over the film.
It is very difficult to discuss this film without breaking down the ending and what it all means, with everything coming together in a final act that displays heart, tension and thrill. It is a testament to Carmichael and screenwriters Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch that ‘On the Count of Three’ is not just being applauded as a relevant and important picture, but that it has avoided severe backlash at all. They clearly understood the assignment, and approached the film with care and consideration.
To say audiences will have a good time may be a stretch, but I found it gripping and there are laughs to be had. The subject manner is clearly going to cause concern, so please be careful with the environment around how one absorbs the film. There are two sides to the coin, and while this is really a well-balanced in tragedy and comedy, there is no denying the haunting theme that can be triggering and devastatingly real.
If this review has raised issues for you or someone you know, you can get support from Lifeline at any time by visiting www.lifeline.org.au or calling 13 11 14.