“Mistaken for Strangers”–family drama masquerading as a rock documentary

This is an enjoyable documentary that some might mistake as a film about the band The National. Instead, Mistaken for Strangers explores the trails of the dysfunctional younger brother of the lead singer, Matt Berninger. Tom Berninger is hired as a roadie and is given the task to use his amateur filmmaker skills to post videos from the tour.

Tom use a small hand-held camera to film footage of the band preparing to go on stage and performing but mostly he turns the camera on himself and records some honest revelations about how he feels overshadowed by his famous brother. He attempts to get each of the performers to join him in his complaints against his brother and stages some hilariously stilted “introductions”. A bumbling boy-man that can’t seem to follow the simplest instructions, he is soon causing friction on the tour with his inept filmmaking and lack of censor. Tom seems to have no clue how awkward his interactions make people feel. There is even footage of Tom’s parents trying to reassure him that he is talented.

After Tom is fired from the tour, he returns home to dedicate himself to editing his movie. A technical issue abruptly ends his Rough Cut screening for the band and after four years, Tom finds an expert to lead the editing effort. A four-hour rambling film becomes this family drama that ends with Tom finding some confidence and returning to the tour…this time on the Security detail.

At the interview on stage at the Boulder Theater, Tom is asked how he feels to see himself on the big screen and whether it makes him uncomfortable to relive his failures. In a friendly, delusional way, he answers “the film was edited to make the story more interesting…I never had any issues with the band. I just didn’t get along with management”! He said that living with his parents in his 30’s with no real job or career ahead is what many of his friends in Cincinnati are facing–“We’re lost”.

Fearful of rejection but without guile, Tom Berininger’s film is an honest portrayal of brothers baffled by each other but caring enough to establish a loving adult relationship. Tom is a man trying to find his way. Mistaken for Strangers is his attempt to find himself.

Leaving the theater, I found myself wanting to listen to The National and glad to have spent some time with this filmmaker.

3 bottles of beer out of 5

Passes the Bechdel Test

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