NXNE: My Thoughts on Mistaken for Strangers

MistakenForStrangers After missing the film when it played last month at Hot Docs, I was happy to get another chance to see the film Mistaken for Strangers when it played as part of the film portion of the NXNE festival this weekend in Toronto.  At the centre of the film is the indie rock band The National, who have finally started seeing some mainstream success, after performing to critical acclaim for a decade.  One of the notable aspects of the band is how four out of the five members are made up of two pairs of brothers.  The only one standing on his own is lead singer Matt Berninger, who many assume doesn’t even have a brother. However, it turns out that Matt does indeed have a younger brother named Tom.  Tom is nine years Matt’s junior and an amateur filmmaker.  Tom is also a bit of metalhead and he isn’t really too keen about the type of music The National play.  One day, Matt asks Tom to join The National on tour as a roadie and Tom decides to take his camera along and make a documentary of the experience, the end result being Mistaken for Strangers. Mistaken for Strangers is the type of documentary that started as one type of film and slowly turned into something else altogether.  From the very first shot of the film, it is very apparent that Tom was more than a little clueless about how to make a documentary about his brother’s band.  Tom’s only real filmmaking experience involved making these ultra-gory fantasy films and it is clear that he doesn’t know how to properly make a documentary, as evidenced by the completely ridiculous questions he asks the band members, such as “How famous are you?”  Being a metalhead, Tom also expected much more “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” on this tour and was quite disappointed that there wasn’t more crazy stuff going on. What started out as merely a goofy little tour diary/concert film becomes much more serious as Tom starts getting on everyone’s nerves.  Tom is highly invasive with his shooting and seems more concerned with making his documentary than his duties as a roadie.  As more things start to go wrong for Tom, he slowly begins to realize that the film is just as much about Tom himself, than it is about The National. Probably the most poignant moment of the film comes when Tom finally admits to the camera that he hates living in his famous brother’s shadow.  Even Tom’s parents admit that Matt was easier to raise and seems to have more self-confidence.  Tom is desperate to finish his doc and for it to be good, so he can find some sort of acceptance in his brother’s eyes.  Of course, everything was not always wine and roses for Matt Berninger, who at one point of the film described how tough it was in the early days of The National when they frequently played for empty venues.  Even though Matt and Tom went down different paths in life, they both have certain skills that they excel at more than the other. Even though the film ends up being about the brotherly relationship between Matt and Tom Berninger, there is still plenty of focus on The National themselves, including a climatic performance to finish off the film.  Overall, I have to say that even though Mistaken for Strangers started off as a goofy rock doc, it turned into a much more emotional journey of self-discovery for man in the shadow of his more famous older brother.  9 | REALLY LIKED IT

Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).