Mistaken for Strangers

Mistaken for Strangers ★★★★

So I have to say I'm an absolutely massive fan of The National so I've been dying to see this ever since I knew it existed. At first I thought it was just going to be a general documentary on the band, you know, the conventional boring ones but that still interested me. I remember being at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival that was curated by The National in December 2012 (probably before the announcement of the film) and thinking I was being filmed at one point from someone in The National's room and I also remember seeing Tom Berninger around the festival and Matt even introduced him as his brother when the band were on stage. So when I heard about the documentary, I thought maybe I would be in it! (Spoiler, I'm not).

I then heard more about this film and how it wasn't a typical rock doc piece on The National and now having seen it I can say that it was a thoroughly interesting and different approach to a band documentary. I'm so glad that this is actually a film because maybe it wasn't a band of The National's statue it wouldn't have been so. The film essentially starts with lead singer Matt Berninger inviting his brother, Tom, on tour with the band as they tour the album High Violet (their 2nd best album after Trouble Will Find Me, their most recent record) The film highlights how the band, apart from Matt, is actually a band of brothers. Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Scott and Bryan Devendorf. Tom is invited along as a roadie and he decides he will take a camera and try and make some sort of film for the band.

So we follow Tom as he clumsily films everything and awkwardly interviews the band members and squabbles with his brother. The whole film plays like a bunch of deleted scenes and out-takes from a traditional concert movie, but the film is unexpectedly hilarious, deep, human and most importantly genuine. Tom's woeful roadie abilities and laughable interview questions are not an act, it is truly him. He films himself, as he gets into trouble with the band manager, argues with Matt and complains that he wants to do more crazy fun stuff since he is on tour with a rock band. The National themselves may come off as moody, dull and emotionless backstage to some viewers but this contrasts with their genuinely heartfelt and emotion filled songs. Off stage, Matt is focused, calm and collected but on stage he is anything but, screaming into the microphone and literally jumping into the crowd and wading through the audience.

As the documentary progresses, you realise this film is more about Tom than anyone else. He is not really making a film about The National he is just filming the experience of being on tour with them, and the film is basically about him trying to figure out what film he wants to make. The documentary becomes increasingly about the brother relationship between him and Matt, with Matt being 9 years older and a successful famous rock star and Tom being not successful and aimless in his life. The contrasts in their personalities are really intriguing to see and you begin to really connect with Tom and his feelings of jealously and worthlessness. And if you have a brother (I do) or sister, you can identify with both of them and their struggles but also the laughs they have together. A nice human moment comes when Tom talks to his mother and father about the differences between himself and Matt, his mother says he Tom was harder to raise but every bit as imaginative and creative as Matt and his mother says she believes he will become successful too (and maybe now he has?) His father says Matt always had that self confidence that Tom doesn't have, which must be hard for anyone to hear.

Tom's documentary about making a documentary takes him to Matt's house where he films himself editing the film into a finished piece. Here Matt encourages him and becomes genuinely interested in what his brother has filmed. They take the work in progress to be screened before a National gig but the screening goes wrong and they argue again, Tom becoming increasingly frustrated and low. He is shown talking about how he's a mess and he can't have a girlfriend right now which is sad to witness. Also in a tearful moment he grabs the camera and films himself crying talking about how he desperately wants the film to be good. It's a sad but genuine and funny moment because he tells us on camera to us and Matt that he grabbed the camera when he was crying in order to get across his real emotions in the moment, but also because it would look good in the film if he was crying. And its moments like that that make this documentary so real and touching and amusing. The final scene is at a concert where Matt strays into the crowd during a song and Tom follows him through the crowd holding up the microphone cable, two brothers together enjoying the moment, its a lovely heart warming moment and a perfect way to end the documentary.


p.s. there's a bit in the film where they're recording Trouble Will Find Me and Matt is singing I Should Live in Salt, which if you're an obsessed National fan like me you'd know that that song was written ABOUT Tom but this is not told in the documentary itself which is a bit of a shame. So I think that although this film would be interesting and entertaining to non fans, I also think it helps quite a lot to be a fan because then its immensely appealing and you cannot really dislike it. Hurray for Tom! (Also Yay for the St Vincent and Werner Herzog cameos!)

Danio liked this review