Movie Review: ‘On the Count of Three’ Is a Shallow and Uneventful Character Drama
Director: Jerrod Carmichael
Writer: Ari Katcher, Ryan Welch
Stars: Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbott, Tiffany Haddish
Synopsis: Jerrod Carmichael makes his directorial debut and stars in On the Count of Three, a darkly comic feature about two best friends, Val (Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbott), on the last day of their lives.
One watches Jerrod Carmichael’s On the Count of Three with extreme caution, as it deals with the heavy theme of suicide, following two best friends who are spending their last day together before they collectively kill themselves. Carmichael directs and plays Val, while Christopher Abbott portrays Kevin, who each have their reasons to end their lives. However, the movie doesn’t want to explore their respective arcs. Instead, Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch’s script sticks them in a series of brief vignettes that gives virtually no insight on any theme they present, or any new character they introduce.
The cast is incredible. Aside from Carmichael and Abbott; Tiffany Haddish, J.B. Smoove, and Henry Winkler are all great in extremely minor roles but are terribly underused. One of the most important arcs in the film is Kevin’s relationship with Dr. Brenner (Winkler), a psychiatrist who allegedly abused and tormented him when he was a child. The brief scene involving a young Kevin and Brenner [with Winkler forced to wear one of the worst wigs I’ve ever seen in a modern motion picture] barely scratches the surface on what made Kevin despise him so much that he plots to kill him before he takes his own life. Winkler does make the most of his screen time, and the scene he shares with Abbott near the end is terrific, but something feels desperately missing.
The same thing happens with Val’s relationship with his father (Smoove) and girlfriend (Haddish). Both Smoove and Haddish are impeccable and make the most of their very limited screen time, but the movie seems disinterested in delving deep into the root of Val’s qualms with both characters. Whenever you’re doing a character drama, you should be interested in exploring the characters you focus on, and their relationship with other protagonists. But since the scenes with Smoove, Haddish, and Winkler are so brief, with the movie briskly moving from one moment to the next without any thought, the movie feels incomplete and extremely shallow.
This is mostly due to the film’s swift runtime, which runs at 77 minutes without credits. A movie this emotionally charged shouldn’t be this short. Carmichael, Katcher, and Welch should want to deepen the relationship between Val and Kevin, and then make us understand both characters’ torment. But since we barely have a glimpse at their thought patterns and friendship, we quickly lose interest in the film, which renders the more “emotional” or “gutting” scenes of the film, which happen near the end of it, completely flat and senseless. I thought to myself that the movie wouldn’t go into the exploitative route, since it’s trying to handle suicidal thoughts with as much care as possible, but when a rather insensitive moment happens before its climax, the movie starts to get extremely exploitative and tries to manipulate the audience into feeling for both characters, when what happened in the previous hour or so was so distant that there’s virtually no emotional connection with either of them.
It’s a good thing, though, that Carmichael and Abbott are the strongest parts of the movie, especially Abbott gives a career-best performance as Kevin. He makes the most of the limited depth he has with the character, and, in turn, gives one of the most memorable acting performances of the year. It’s just a shame that the film isn’t interested in exploring Kevin’s torment, and his friendship with Val. Both arcs are severely incomplete, and the movie would’ve definitely benefited from a longer runtime. If you’re going to delve on a facet of their life, it’s fine to make it short, but when you start to peel back on the reasoning behind their suicidal thoughts without trying to explore any of them, a brief runtime makes the movie feel rushed and underdeveloped.
As such, On the Count of Three is nothing more than a superficial character drama with some neat 35mm cinematography, interesting needle drops (For the Love of You Pts. 1 & 2 is an incredible song), and great performances. Without such strong acting from its cast, the movie might not have been as watchable as it was, since its script barely tries to give a gripping and emotionally investing character drama. But as a first-time directorial effort, there certainly are worse movies out there. With a more impactful script, Carmichael will be a voice to watch out for. He just needs to learn how to make the most out of his time for maximum impact. Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman was 72 minutes long and did not waste a single moment building an effective emotional core through its two protagonists. On the Count of Three has virtually nothing of interest to say about its characters, its themes, and its story. And because of this, the movie fails at making an impact and will be quickly forgotten in a couple of days.