Friday, April 4, 2014

[Review] Mistaken For Strangers (Documentary)

Tom Berninger is the brother of Matt Berninger, lead singer of acclaimed indie rock band, The National. The two bros are presented as polar opposites. Matt is an esteemed songwriter, fronting a band that has transcended the indiesphere, now playing their brand of beautifully melancholy music across the world in front of thousands of people. He wears a suit and sips wine on stage. Tom is a metalhead, a shaggy slacker who still lives at home with his parents, and he isn't really a huge fan of the music his brother makes. Tom gets invited on The National's tour to be a roadie/assistant manager, and he decides to bring a video camera along in order to make a rock doc--that actually doesn't turn out to be a rock doc.

While there is still a fair amount of live footage and behind-the-scenes looks at The National, the core of this documentary is about two brothers on divergent paths. Tom walks through the city streets and no one pays attention; Matt follows behind as dozens of people stop him for photographs. Matt rocks a stage in king-of-the-world fashion, while Tom gets yelled at backstage for not doing his job correctly. Tom is on the outside looking in, and he expresses this in his commentary.

The film veers into even more personal territory during the second half, as the dialogue about Tom and Matt's differences comes to the forefront, journeying back to their childhood. Even their parents get interviewed. The fraternal dynamics elevate Mistaken For Strangers above being just a music profile about a rising band, and it also works as a documentary within a documentary, which adds a meta element that expounds the creative process. Tom's motivations for making the film become clear in a genuinely heartfelt and humanistic manner.

Mistaken For Strangers is a wonderfully layered documentary, and it definitely deserves some attention.

Recommended Doc

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