Jerrod Carmichael has already outgrown three

Photo: Albert Camicioli/Annapurna Pictures

At three begins with a petrified Jerrod Carmichael and Christopher Abbott pointing guns to each other’s faces and desperately reaffirming their friendship while barely containing the panic. It’s an in-media-res opening that’s gotten a little too commonplace in TV pilots lately, but it’s also a promise At three does not mess with its premise. The film, which is Carmichael’s directorial debut and was written by Rami Co-creators Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, is about two men who make a suicide pact and then spend one last day together looking for closure or novelty or something else before dying together. Whether he can pull off this move or not, the film also makes it clear that its characters are serious about their planned ending and that the comedy it is trying to offer is bitterly somber.

At three more than doesn’t work, though the film, hitting theaters almost a year and a half after its Sundance 2021 debut, feels like something its director and star has already outgrown. Last month, Carmichael released the vulnerable and deeply personal stand-up special Rothaniel, in which he dealt with his family, the image of masculinity he had internalized and his identity as a gay man. A few days later, as host, he delivered a masterful monologue Saturday night live for the first time. In a recent interview with timeCarmichael has noticed a change in his posture since coming out: “I recently told a friend that I’ll take better photos after coming out because I’m not scared of looking gay. I think I move better, move more freely. Little things. I no longer worry about being a man. I accept that I am. I don’t have to do it.”

It’s something that comes to mind when I observe his graceful lightness doing it SNL stage, and again while watching him as Val, a grumpy landscape utility worker who is sidelined by the news that he’s been promoted. There’s nothing comfortable about Carmichael on screen At three. That’s partly because of his choice to portray Val’s state of mind through flat affectlessness, and partly because of the film’s self-awareness of its own provocations. At three recalls comedian Bobcat Goldthwait’s work as a filmmaker, who has also often found his way back to sincerity from an outrageous build-up. Carmichael has always been interested in material that other creators might find too strained — his NBC show regularly explored topics that didn’t exactly meet the network’s sitcom standard throughout its three seasons. But there is an inciting quality At three that feels a little youthful in context, as if the premise was a way to approach issues like mental illness, depression and fatherhood when the film could have just tackled them headfirst.

Val, who by the news that his girlfriend (The Carmichael Show alum Tiffany Haddish) is pregnant, hopeless about the future. His best friend Kevin (Abbott), who has struggled with mental health throughout his life, is already in a treatment facility after attempting suicide earlier this week. A blond Abbott portrays Kevin as a tragic carnivore who has been waiting practically his entire life for someone to join him in his desperation. When Val pulls him out and the two agree to wait until the end of the day to do the deed, they drive through a spectacularly ugly cluster of tristate suburbs looking for something to celebrate the occasion. This fiddly search for closure or meaning is where the film is at its best and funniest as the pair discuss why the day behind a strip club is a convenient place for a double suicide, the appropriateness of Papa Roach as a soundtrack argue and then they vacillate between attempting to stage a reconciliation between Val and his abusive father, Lyndell (JB Smoove), and stalking and killing Dr. Brenner (Henry Winkler), the child psychiatrist who abused Kevin.

All of the misery revealed as the two men go about their day may be bleak, but the humor comes from the small humiliations inflicted on them even as they try to go out with a bang – Dr. Brenner is up later in the day, Lyndell has a Big Mouth Billy Bass on the wall of the garage he works in that keeps kicking off at inopportune moments. At three eventually inevitably paints itself into a corner and ends on an unsatisfactory note, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a small effort from an artist who’s already moved on to bigger and better things.

See everything Jerrod Carmichael has already outgrown three

Lindsay Lowe

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