Black comedies can be quite difficult to do well when they’re about a subject that is normally off limits where joking is concerned. You make things too funny and things can be disrespectful; you make things too heavy and, well… that’s not a black comedy, that’s just a tragedy with an icebreaker here and there.
There have been a few films that I have seen over the years that I was not even aware were considered black comedies until I looked them up on Wikipedia long after the fact, and I am never sure if this is because the ratio was off or if I just wasn’t dialed into the humor for whatever reason. On the Count of Three has a good deal of this unevenness, but it has even more moments where the balance is pretty darn good.
First premiering at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and finally hitting Hulu in 2022 as a “Hulu Original,” On the Count of Three is a story of two very depressed friends who decide to commit suicide together, but not until after they have one last day unfettered by the promise of consequences to come.
The directorial debut of comedian Jerrod Carmichael (who also stars as Val), On the Count of Three starts out grim. Going into this movie blind as I did, I had no idea that it was intended to be a black comedy for the first 30 minutes or so as Val and his best friend Kevin (played by Christopher Abbott) discuss very heavy subjects like suicidal depression, bullying, and broken homes, and any dark humor that was attempted had a tendency to make things more sad than anything else.
I could see that this little indie film was going to be one of those rough but hopefully worth-it stories, but just when I thought I had figured out what On the Count of Three was, a scene came along that was genuinely funny in that dark kind of way.
From then until the penultimate scene, the drama (which is very well done, by the way) hits that nice balance with the chuckles. Usually black comedy/drama films shoo out the clowns at the end of the film, but On the Count of Three makes the additional weird choice of not inviting the clowns in until we are halfway done already.
Despite this unevenness of tone between halves, On the Count of Three works pretty well, mostly because it never treats mental illness, the idea of suicide, or the characters themselves as a joke.
The acting is exceptional (especially in the case of the two leads), the direction and cinematography are very well done, and the soundtrack hits that sweet spot that only indie films are usually capable of hitting. On the Count of Three is a tragedy about what life and mental illness can do to people, but it also has a deeper message of friendship and putting others first that I greatly appreciated.
On the Count of Three is now available on Hulu.