‘Mistaken for Strangers’ is one of the most unconventional music documentaries you will ever watch and that is why it is so amusing. Many of us have that one sibling that is the black sheep of the family. They have talent but just can’t seem to get their act together. That’s the premise of this intriguing film. Matt Berninger is the frontman of the critically-acclaimed indie rock band, ‘The National.’ To support their 2010 album “High Violet” which is a follow-up to their hit record “Boxer,” Matt asks his little brother Tom if he would like to help out on their European tour. Hired as a roadie, Tom brings a video camera along to document the band’s tour that morphs into a fascinating and introspective look at family dynamics.
No deed goes unpunished and Tom’s intentions are good. He sets out to make a behind-the-scenes rock documentary. Things soon unravel as we witness his lack of focus and organizational skills. His brother Matt inquires point blank, “Do you have any kind of organization and plan for this film?” If Tom were a vindictive brother, we probably wouldn’t care about his plight. He’s actually a likable, portly slacker that means well. He has a genuine passion for filmmaking when he shows us straight-to-DVD horror films he made with titles such as ‘Dirt Under His Nails’ and ‘Wages of Sin.’ Even when he interviews his mother, she sincerely admits Tom was more talented than Matt but the main differences that separated them were her older son’s focus and self-confidence.
Although Tom turns the camera on himself throughout the tour, there are some captivating moments with ‘The National’ live on stage. The music is haunting as we see Matt charismatically sing and interact with the audience. These scenes are brief but give the viewer a good taste of why this band has such a loyal underground following. It’s funny when the tattooed tour manager reels Tom into his office scolding him for his lackadaisical attitude toward his duties as a roadie. Quite a few times, the guy screams out to Tom to turn that camera off but it’s these awkward moments that make it so entertaining. After a show, the band has opportunities to meet with celebrities. Tom gets upset when he is excluded at meeting President Obama or when German director Werner Herzog shows up at a concert. Matt patiently explains to him that it isn’t cool filming celebrities without their permission. Minutes later we see Tom shooting actress Emily Blunt and her husband John Krasinski chatting with Matt backstage.
After the tour, Matt is kind enough to let Tom crash in the spare room (the daughter’s playroom) of his Brooklyn home. It’s Tom’s oddball interview questions that make this film so endearing. His older brother, always the consummate professional never displays an air of conceit toward him. He cares about his little brother and is one of his biggest supporters. As Tom shows him the breakdown of the film in color-coded stickies pasted to the wall, Matt is rooting for him to see it through and finish the project. One of the funniest scenes is Tom and Matt’s little daughter playing together. Tom asks her, “Do you think I’ll be a movie maker?” Without hesitation, she yells back, “No!” Tom then asks her, “Do you think I’ll date a hot movie star?” Again her reply is an emphatic, “No!”
Tom finally gets redemption by not only seeing this film project to completion but the documentary, ‘Mistaken for Strangers’ premieres on opening night at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The closing credits show that it was a collaborative effort particularly with Matt’s wife acting as producer and editor but it’s Tom quirky way at looking at the world and his predicament that make it a winning documentary. ‘Mistaken for Strangers’ is available at iTunes. For more details where to see it, visit their website http://mistakenforstrangersmovie.com/. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/FNmprL3SOlM.