‘Mistaken For Strangers’, billed as a music documentary about The National, is neither about The National, nor even really a music doco. And that’s why it’s brilliant.
‘Mistaken For Strangers’ is truly about the camera operator and directer Tom Berninger, and his complicated relationship with his brother Matt, the leader singer from the band. He provides a humorous, self-deprecative and ultimately moving portrayal of being the young brother in the shadows of a highly successful sibling, and wonderfully shot live footage from The National’s expansive world tour of 2010 provides a lovely backdrop and foundation for the true story of the film.
It is certainly not your typical band doco. Hardly anything is revealed about the band, their origins, and the production of this years Trouble Will Find Me. The other band members are utilised mostly for their opinions of Matt and his relationships, and Tom Berninger gradually becomes the focus of the movie.
‘Mistaken For Strangers’ is a quirky, eccentric, and borderline self-indulgent reflection of life on the road as an outsider, but Berninger manages to achieve this while still remaining relatable and likable, as well as portraying the band in a wholly positive light.
The tale begins when Matt invites his 9-years-younger brother along to the world tour as a roadie. Tom decides to bring along a small camera, and eventually, and predictably, becomes much more focused on creating this film than his real duties on the tour, something that leads to many heated, and undeniably entertaining, arguments between the brothers.
Tom constantly references to Matt’s success and fame, at times bitterly, and others just bemusingly, and can only a muster a series of highly amusing questions to the other band members, including “do you ever get sleepy?”, “do you take your wallet with you on stage?”, and “which of you can play faster?” (directed at the Dessner twins).
Matt Berninger comes across as patient and light-hearted, although at times he’s shown to, understandably, lose his temper at his brother, and funnily does this after cereal was discovered in the hotel bathroom.
Ultimately, you don’t need to be a fan of The National to enjoy this film for the nuances and relatable themes, and you’ll definitely be much more inclined to the band after viewing it. It’s an unconventional, constantly engaging, intimate reflection on living in the shadows of a successful older brother, and the difficulties involved in relationships like this.