documentary review – Mistaken For Strangers

Mistaken For Strangers really isn’t the concert tour film about The National that Tom Berninger set out to make. Tom, lead singer Matt Berninger’s brother and an aspiring film maker, joined the band as an assistant tour manager with the goal to, meanwhile, chronicle his time with his brother’s band and to cover the ins and outs of a real rock ‘n’ roll tour. While the documentary does offer some insight regarding the band, their touring and what goes on behind the scenes, this isn’t a film about The National. Don’t go in expecting a lot of concert footage, many in-depth band member interviews or even much of the band’s music. Instead prepare yourself for a deeply moving documentary about the Berninger brothers, about their relationship, about the good and bad.

There’s a lot of frailty and pathos in Mistaken For Strangers. It’s a brutally honest and disarming look at Tom Berninger himself, about his insecurities and failures, about what he wants and what he needs. “Having Matt as my older brother sucks, because he’s a rock star and I am not, and it has always been that way,” Tom says at one point, which is the key quote his documentary revolves around. Tom so desperately wants to be like his brother, to have the same amount of success and receive the same amount of respect, that he comes of as quite a needy and sad character. You really feel for the guy, a man who clearly has the best intentions, who doesn’t ask for much, but doesn’t seem to be able to get what he wants because he’s a bit of a screw-up.What makes the documentary even more touching is that the love of the Berninger brothers clearly shines through: Matt tries to support his brother by taking him with him on tour, by letting him film everything, by comforting him in case of set-backs (and there are a few). It’s clear from the get-go that Matt wants Tom to succeed, that he thinks his brother deserves some of the luck he’s had, and that he loves him dearly.

In taking this angle Tom Berninger has hit gold: everyone with a brother or sister understands the universal themes the documentary addresses. But parents will also understand it, or close friends, or everyone with a beating heart. The story Mistaken For Strangers tells is a small and tender one, a personal and universal one, and one that will strike a chord with any viewer; you don’t need to be a fan of The National to enjoy this film. Additionally it’s interesting to note that Mistaken For Strangers is also a making-of of the documentary itself: Tom finds out what he has to say along the way, which also gives the film a sense of urgency and growth, and adds another layer to the film.

Don’t mistake Mistaken For Strangers for a concert film: it’s a moving account of a younger brother who desperately wants to measure up. It’s heartbreaking. 9/10

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