Sundance Film Festival: 'On the Count of Three' is the Jerrod Carmichael bromance drama you're not expecting

There's beauty in the bromance on screen of "On the Count of Three," which debuted Friday night at the virtual Sundance Film Festival.

The dramedy, which also serves as the directorial debut of stand-up comedian Jerrod Carmichael, spends a tumultuous day with two lifelong friends who have found themselves mired in depression and can't visualize a way out. 

Val (Carmichael) hatches a plan and springs his best friend Kevin (Christopher Abbott) from the mental institution where he's been convalescing – against his will – since his last suicide attempt. The two hatch a suicide pact, but not before spending one last day tying up loose ends, exacting revenge on foes and joyriding on dirt bikes.

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Christopher Abbott (left) and Jerrod Carmichael play friends who make a pact to kill each other in the dark comedy "On the Count of Three."

Though dry, comedic moments pepper the story (the anti-gun Kevin mutters about lack of coherent weapons legislation before holding up a convenience store), the film itself is a study in the feeling of hopelessness that often accompanies depression. What led Carmichael to launch his film directing career with more serious fare, rather than a comedy in line with his more broad NBC television series, "The Carmichael Show"?

Carmichael said while he was on track to keep doing such fare, the weight of "On the Count of Three" appealed to him. 

"I've always been infatuated with getting more complicated thoughts to broader audiences," said the star in a Sundance Q&A that followed the film's debut. "It's the reason 'The Carmichael Show' was technically a family sitcom that I used to kind of Trojan Horse these topics we found really interesting. So it just feels natural. It feels right ... And with the film, it just felt like a natural progression of like, truth."

In "On the Count of Three," the director reunites with "Carmichael Show" star Tiffany Haddish, who has a small role playing Val's estranged girlfriend. Carmichael praised Haddish for the "truthful" way she played the character. "What comedians can do oftentimes is relay reality in a way that sounds familiar," said Carmichael, adding that he hopes to see Haddish in more dramatic roles.

Did the star, who also directs Henry Winkler in the film as Kevin's former psychologist, get overly critical while directing himself?

"Oh, Jesus, yeah. Of course," said Carmichael, who kept a trusted group close during the process. "I have an honest group of people around me who will criticize – very brutally honest criticisms and thoughts. It's very constructive and I appreciate that," he chuckled. 

Jerrod Carmichael speaks about 'Ramy' onstage during the Hulu Panel during the Winter TCA 2019 on February 2019.

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Questions arose in the Q&A on if Carmichael worried about glorifying suicide while making the film.

The actor/director said he considers mental health "incredibly important." The story itself is "not an easy place to go to," he said, "but as a director it's my job to see this story through and tell the story completely."

"On the Count of Three" is currently for sale at the film festival.