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Forget dissecting last night’s Super Bowl commercials. The clip to watch today is The New Pornographers’ video for “Moves,” the power ballad that leads off last year’s album Together. None of the New Pornos themselves appear; instead, we are treated to some truly ingenious stunt casting as a gallery of comedians and other musicians stand in for A.C. Newman and company.
The “Moves” video, directed by Tom Scharpling of the New Jersey freeform station WFMU, runs as an extended trailer for an exaggerated biopic of the Vancouver supergroup. Mountain Goats and Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster, wearing a shockingly red wig, stars as an East Village troubadour incarnation of Newman—”the man who challenged destiny” as the faux intertitles suggest. The humor writer Julie Klausner stands in for Neko Case, while John Collins and Blaine Thurier are replaced by Horatio Sanz and Wyatt Cenac.
Two casting moves stand above the rest: Kevin Corrigan, an actor who appears as frequently in independent cinema as he does the Judd Apatow universe, gets the role of Dan Bejar; backup singer Kathryn Calder is played by—wait for it—Ted Leo in drag and a pageboy haircut.
The video portends to tell “the rise and rise” of the band, albeit a violent and coked-out version of history. As Calder, Leo starts in the background toting an accordion, but soon enough gets to show his chops with a panicky outburst as the band escapes an anti-Canadian lynch mob led by Cenac’s fellow Daily Show correspondent John Oliver, a champagne toast to Sanz and Cenac basking in a mountain of blow (with Cenac’s Thurier topping a slice of pizza with more than a dusting), a spiked-heel assault on a pushy record executive played by John Hodgman, and a tender seduction by a fully-Bieberized incarnation of Todd Fancey.
The New Pornographers are far from the first band to lampoon the excesses of musical success in a video and the piece for “Moves” is as much about the celebrity-spotting as it is about the satire. After all, the first 15 seconds are a tease for a nonexistent, sub-Apatovian comedy starring Paul Rudd and Bill Hader great with children. At least one hopes Expectant Dads is a ruse; it does have a website of its own.
But back to Leo, whose brilliant turn as Calder should go down as the indie-rock response to Cate Blanchett‘s portrayal of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There. Though the actors playing the band are continuously trying to outdo one another, this video quickly becomes Leo-as-Calder’s show. Maybe because it’s easy to fixate on a drag act; maybe because Leo hyped the video’s quiet rollout last night on his Twitter account; or maybe because Leo throws himself into his role with the most brio. Cocaine jokes are easy, freaking out in the passenger seat while escaping an anti-Canadian riot led by an pompous Englishman is uncommon.