Mistaken for Strangers
- Malcolm Jack
- 3 March 2014
Documentary about US indie group The National filmed by sibling Tom Berninger
A film about making a film, about a band making it as a band, and about brothers getting along as brothers – Mistaken for Strangers may be one of the smartest, funniest, most heart-warming rockdocs ever made. Being a fan of The National isn't a prerequisite for enjoyment – much as it helps, with their music featuring heavily – as is simply having a family.
As the American indie-rock quintet – who uniquely feature two pairs of brothers, singer Matt Berninger being the odd man out – prepare to tour their 2010 breakout album High Violet worldwide, Berninger invites his own, very different younger sibling Tom to roadie. Tom's a metalhead slacker dude with no ambition in life save for amateur filmmaking. Even though he's far from awestruck by The National, he decides to self-shoot a tour doc, to the detriment of his responsibilities. At one show in LA he loses the guestlist, leaving Matt's wife, Werner Herzog and the cast of Lost locked out.
After several heated exchanges, including a Spinal Tap-esque fight over spilled cereal, Tom's fired, but he later moves into Matt's Brooklyn family home to edit his magnum opus, realising during the process how it shows not a tour so much as his own life lived in the shadow of his ostensibly golden-boy brother. The clincher moment is footage of a much younger, less cool-looking National playing to a near-empty venue in their early days, unlocking how Tom's filmmaking journey is paralleled by the band's own underdog narrative – success came to them late too, after years of labouring in obscurity.
It's questionable quite how unscripted Mistaken for Strangers is – expect several 'wait, who's holding the camera?' realisations during key scenes. But it only makes you admire how everyone from band to crew convincingly play their part in telling a nevertheless very truthful story. A story about the often mundane life of a touring band, about believing in your art, and about how blood – so much of which courses through this film – is thicker than water.
Reviewed at Glasgow Film Festival 2014.