If you’ve ever been a fan of Jerrod Carmichael, you’re probably aware that he hasn’t always been for everyone. His stand-up special, Love at the Store, featured him shedding all decorum of treating everyone with kindness and instead explained why the world is unfair and how he’s waiting for all of us to catch up with his indifference. His “talent vs. morals” debate is a bit I still reference with my best friend to this day. Plenty of people I’ve introduced him to either crack up or feign disgust (something Carmichael appears to enjoy in particular).
This is mostly the case for his follow-up special as well. His gallows humor was never angry; rather, it was always introduced to the audience as another way of thinking. Which is smart, because he could say some heinous (yet hilarious) shit. However, it’s in his newest special, Rothaniel, that Carmichael grows out of shock comedy and makes something truly soulful. It’s not a huge departure, of course; he’s shown the capacity for introspection in a number of personal documentaries released on HBO. But it’s here that we see a new, happier, more confident man, or at least one who’s more confident in himself than just his words. This is all to say that On the Count of Three, Carmichael’s directorial feature debut, is another great addition to his growing, dynamic body of work.
Val (Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbot) are not doing very well. Val is chastised for his work ethic at the dead end job he couldn’t care less about, while Kevin has recently been institutionalized for a failed attempt at suicide. When Val is offered a promotion, it triggers such disgust for what his life has become that he starts to think Kevin was onto something. Val breaks Kevin out of the hospital and the two vow to end their lives together, but not before living one last day on earth to cherish one last thing before making their exit from this mortal plane.
This movie starts bleak and doesn’t really let up as it progresses, but make no mistake, this is a dark comedy. Carmichael finds plenty to mine from the humor of living one last day after deciding to kill yourself. The lack of consequence pushes the movie forward, knowing that you won’t be alive to see tomorrow. But that doesn’t mean that life itself isn’t hilarious, and the movie makes it clear that even when you’re done with life clowning on you, life is never done clowning on you. The use of a singing “filet-o-fish” novelty toy underscores the absurdity of trying to make amends while simultaneously disrupting your life in such a final way. The soundtrack in particular mines a lot of comedy.
The movie has a pretty flashy cast: Tiffany Haddish, JB Smoove, and Henry Winkler all feature in the film. Jerrod Carmichael has always had the support of people in high places (Spike Lee directed his debut comedy special), but the film rests on the shared shoulders of Carmichael and Abbot. It’s their friendship that guides them to this place, wanting to do such a final act together, knowing that one can’t live without the other. There’s really beautiful chemistry in that friendship. Abbot in particular gets to really play someone who has been dealt the shittiest hand, someone who truly has nothing to lose. He’s the heart of the movie, made all the more sadder by how broken it’s been. That doesn’t stop him from bringing laughs learning how to use a gun, or trying to be the best ally to his friend in his remaining hours.
It goes without saying that the subject matter of the film is not for everyone. Early on, there is a failed suicide attempt that as amateur and silly as it is portrayed, is still very painful to watch. It wrestles with the uncomfortable truths of most of Carmichael’s stand-up. It’s a movie that shows what it’s like to embrace that pessimistic nature that things truly won’t get better and how destructive that mindset can be. The story takes itself to some beautiful places into why such a mindset doesn’t take you anywhere productive, but from the premise alone, most people should be able to tell if something like this is made for them.
On the Count of Three is another wonderful showcase of Carmichael’s truly compassionate heart. His standup hasn’t always made that easy to see, but he’s an artist who has only grown and continued being curious. It’s a movie that I think is very valuable in a world where it’s so easy to want to give up as life continues to seemingly punish everyone. Here’s a movie that says no, it’s not always worth it, but maybe you’ll get a Dum Dum out of it.