“Moving” is one of the funniest independent films of the year. Conceived by Virginia-based filmmaker Jonathan Friedman and starring the new comedy team of L. Derek Leonidoff and Terry Jernigan, “Moving” is an original, genuine laugh-out-loud packed from start to finish with truly inventive situations and screamingly hilarious dialogue.
Mixing equal parts of Kafka and Beckett with healthy pinches of Abbott and Costello, “Moving” begins with most bizarre concept imaginable: Ron Fervent (Leonidoff), a would-be novelist who makes a living writing user manuals for VCRs, returns home from a publishing convention to discover his house is stolen. No, not a robbery in the house…but the house itself, uprooted from its foundation and carted away with nary an eyewitness. Through a variety of miscommunications, it is assumed Ron is trying to pull of an insurance scam when filing a claim on his stolen house and is soon being chased by various law enforcement agencies. His sole salvation is his friend John (Jernigan), an ebullient nutcase writer for a supermarket tabloid which promises news you can’t find anywhere else (including sightings of Bigfoot in Central Park and photos from Heaven via the Hubbell Telescope). Ron and John track the house thieves via a network of flea markets, where Ron’s belongings inevitably wind up for sale at prices far below their genuine and sentimental value. With the assistance of various oddballs including a bearded man whispering cryptic clues, a rifleman who takes target practice on ants and a shadowy army of neurotic rebels, Ron and John track down the men behind this edifice-snatching ring.
Much of the joy in “Moving” comes from a series of out-of-nowhere conversations between Leonidoff and Jernigan which move ceaselessly between the ridiculous and the sublime. With a wild-eyed gaze and a rat-a-tat-tat delivery, Jernigan fires off hilariously smutty one-liners (“Flattery will get you underwear”), inane confessions (the admission that the Central Park Bigfoot was a co-worker in an ape suit…but only because he spilled Kool-Aid on the Bigfoot suit) and flights of philosophical lunacy (“You ever think about stuff? I mean, there’s so much stuff!). When confronted by the worst that life can offer, he responds with sharp, edgy cracks that will appeal to the inner wiseguy in everyone: a hotheaded intellectual female rebel is cooled off with “Ease down, Dorothy Parker!” while a rifle-pointing hillbilly’s demand “You think I’m stupid?” is met with a Jack Benny-worthy pause, a slight widening of the eyes and a sincere response of “Honestly?”
Jernigan’s hijinks are supported brilliantly by Leonidoff’s bedraggled everyman experiencing the worst possible mishaps in the realm of the cosmos. When taken for a ride by a pair of sexy gas station bandits, Leonidoff tries sheepishly to find a possible explanation for the bag of cash dumped in his lap by inquiring “Did you pay for this money?” When his steering wheel is stolen from his automobile, he answers his partner’s call to “get a grip” by using a pair of pliers in lieu of the missing wheel. The sight gag is priceless in itself, and Leonidoff’s embarrassed scowl and cranky apology to fellow motorists (“I’m driving with pliers”) ices this incredibly rich comic cake.
Filmmaker Friedman never misses an opportunity to pack a scene with as much fun as possible, either with “Airplane!”-worthy sight gags (the rebel leader fires her gun skyward to silence a room and is met with a shower of plaster smack on her head) or intense dialogue (the rebel leader’s mother keeps a running commentary on how clever her daughter is in certain areas and lacking in others). Politically incorrect humor is tossed about at unexpected moments, but the results are more joyfully bizarre than offensive (why is the flea market shopper who purchases the stolen goods an African-American wearing an Arab kaffiyeh?).
Endlessly creative and brilliantly conceived, “Moving” is a happy surprise from opening to closing credits. Kudos for Friedman, Leonidoff and Jernigan for their extraordinary work together…and here’s hoping for an endless “Road to…” series of films from this gifted trio.