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Sundance 2021 Review: 'On the Count of Three' is the mental health film you need to see

This Sundance film won the 'Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for U.S. Dramatic' and rightfully so.

Christopher Abbott and Jerrod Carmichael appear in On the Count of Three
(Image: © Christopher Abbott and Jerrod Carmichael appear in On the Count of Three by Jerrod Carmichael, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Marshall Adams.)

Our Verdict

If for nothing else, please watch On the Count of Three as it explores mental health from a male’s perspective and I have to say we don’t see that enough.

For

  • 🔫 Papa Roach needle drop.
  • 🔫 Tiffany Haddish shines despite limited use.

Against

  • 🔫 We don't see a lot of character development in the leads.

On the Count of Three is part of our Sundance Film Festival 2021 coverage. You can find all of our reviews here.

"Mental health matters" is a phrase we often hear now that the world has become a tad bit more acceptive of the idea of therapy. But the term is often said without any understanding of what it really means. Unfortunately, in the Black community, therapy is still an after thought and something folks are often ashamed of. The notion that something could possibly be wrong with our brains, or mental health, is one we rarely discuss, especially in public.

So, when the chance to watch Jerrod Carmichael's directorial debut arose, I immediately added the film to my schedule. Jerrod Carmichael confidently directs and stars in On the Count of Three, a darkly comic debut feature about hopelessness, true friendship, and not always feeling in control.

In On the Count of Three, Val (Jerrod Carmichael) is one of two best friends who has reached a place in his life where he feels like the only way out is to end things. While we never really get down to the bottom of why Val's life is so awful that his only escape is to commit suicide, we do get to feel his sense of hopelessness through his touching, and very realistic, portrayal of a Black man who just can't go on anymore. When Val fails to complete his mission, he reaches out to his best friend Kevin (Christopher Abbott) for help.

Kevin also happens to be recovering from a failed suicide attempt, so to Val he seems like the perfect partner in crime for executing this double suicide plan. Of course, now that I look back on the film, I'm not sure why Val thought his best friend who failed at committing suicide himself could ever help him succeed, but alas the two pick a date, and agree to pull the trigger together, after they attend to some unfinished business.

The script, penned by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, is both clever and deeply compassionate in its depiction of two humans on the verge of giving up. This unusual existential bromance, propelled by Carmichael’s and Abbott’s committed performances and genuine chemistry, is bound to stay with you. The irony of someone wanting to take his own life while attempting to convince his best friend that suicide isn't worth it also doesn't go unnoticed. It's a reminder that while we may have given up we can often still find strength to continue to push our loved ones along. 

On the Count of Three, starts off a bit slower than I would have liked it to, but about 30 minutes in, it picks up and takes you through a great exploration of what it's like to be Black, male, and struggle with every day life with the whole world on your shoulders.

Sadly, we never dig deeper into Val's life aside from his daddy issues. Doing so may have helped us connect to his character a bit more, but we do get to learn and understand why Kevin is so hellbent on leaving. Which helps us to really understand why these two men thought therapy wasn't an option. If nothing else, please watch On the Count of Three as it explores mental health from a male’s perspective as I have to say, we don’t see that enough.