February 3, 2021

SHOWBUZZDAILY Virtual Sundance Reviews: “On the Count of Three” & “Ma Belle, My Beauty”


ON THE COUNT OF THREE:  There was a well-deserved Sundance screenwriting prize for Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch’s script for Jerrod Carmichael’s big-screen directing debut, which threads an almost impossible needle as a comedy about suicidal depression.  (In an unintentional way, the film is a companion piece to the festival’s How It Ends, also a comedy about its characters’ final day on Earth, but this one is far more grounded and affecting.)  We meet Kevin (Christopher Abbott) in a mental ward, where he’s been committed after a failed suicide attempt three days earlier.  Kevin has a long history of psychological problems, and the person he’s always been able to count on is his best friend Val (Carmichael).  But Val is also in a bad place, and he breaks Kevin out expressly for the two of them to enter into a mutual suicide pact.  On The Count of Three recounts the events of that day, as the friends make stops both trivial and critically important to what’s left of their lives.  Everyone involved with the film is on the precisely right wavelength, both consistently funny and sensitive to its characters’ problems.  Abbott (showing great range compared to his role in the festival’s The World To Come) are convincing as lifelong friends, equal parts aggression and affection.  Carmichael’s risk-taking doesn’t stop with the script.  He’s placed comic actors like Tiffany Haddish, JB Smoove and Henry Winkler into important and mostly serious roles, and they deliver.  As a director, he keeps the film modest with a tight 84-minute running time, and he generates a surprising amount of suspense around what will finally happen at the end of Val and Kevin’s day.  The film is a real accomplishment for all concerned.

MA BELLE, MY BEAUTY:  Sundance’s NEXT section, where Marion Hill’s Ma Belle, My Beauty won the Audience Award, is often where the festival puts its more out-there entries, but Ma Belle isn’t all that much off the beaten path.  In fact, in some ways it’s almost Hollywood-adjacent.  The setting is a farmhouse in French wine country, where Lane (Hannah Pepper) has come to visit her ex Bertie (Idella Johnson) at the request of Bertie’s husband Fred (Lucien Guignard), the twist being that back in the US, all three were in a polyamorous relationship, Bertie being involved with both Fred and Lane.  Fred is concerned that for months, Bertie has seemed unfulfilled, stepping away from performing with their band, where Fred is the guitarist and Bertie has been the vocalist.  The emotional undercurrents are strong, and made even more so when Lane begins a fling with Noa (Sivan Noam Shimon).  The Hollywood version of Ma Belle would have more narrative drive–and there’s one scene that wouldn’t likely be on a major studio menu–but the film is filled with lovely locations (even more enticing in these locked-down times), sexy leads and beautiful music (by Mahmoud Chouki) on the soundtrack.  The show stops, in a good way, when Johnson finally sings and reveals a spectacular voice, which she had to confirm was her own in the Q&A.  The relationships among the characters are pleasingly complex, and the languid tension that mounts is compelling.  Hill, whose first feature this is, may well find herself in the Sundance conundrum of deciding whether to stay indie or shift into the mainstream.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."