Filmed over the course of a year, Mistaken For Strangers documents Tom Berninger’s experience on the road and at home with The National — the globally-acclaimed indie rock band that happens to be fronted by his older brother, the baritone voiced and outwardly morose Matt Berninger. Born nine years apart in Cincinnati, Ohio, it’s the relationship of Matt and Tom that truly takes center stage in Mistaken For Strangers, a daring and inventive strategy that drives the film to explore themes of brotherly love, purpose, and art without any notion of pretension — a major surprise for anyone familiar with The National’s music.
It quickly becomes clear that both brothers are true artists in their own right, despite the fact that Matt is a touring rock star and Tom continues to live in their parents’ suburban Cincinnati home. Mistaken For Strangers is wholly Tom’s creation and, as a result, the film shares his personality: simple, light-hearted, and sweet, with hilarious and tear-jerking honesty onscreen throughout. Tom is happy to prod the band members with the naive and silly questions that no self-respecting journalist would bring themselves to ask, and yet it’s what we all actually want to know. He’s also not afraid to shoot the movie with an inexpensive handheld camera, to zoom in way too far, to ask the band members to shoot ridiculous intro takes, to show himself crying on camera, and to film well after his famous brother asks him to stop.
Even if you’re not a big fan of The National’s music — and if you are, then you have to see this movie — Mistaken For Strangers is worth seeing for the way a film that was haphazardly shot and put together (it was originally conceived as a web short for the band’s site) turns out much more powerful than any slick or well-produced statement. Like the shaky footage it’s comprised of, Mistaken For Strangers documents the tumultuous-yet-loving relationship of two very different brothers: one who has exceeded his potential and another still waiting to free himself from self-doubt. Many films challenge the narrator to explore his potential, and yet few films or, even better, people so graciously exceed expectations like Mistaken For Strangers and Tom Berninger.