Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

May 1, 2014

'Mistaken for Strangers' succeeds in unexpected way


Greensburg Daily News

---- — Ryan’s sitting out this week and, with a distinct lack of quality new releases, I dug into the on-demand vault for a recent documentary, “Mistaken for Strangers” (PG-13).

Director Tom Berninger set out to chronicle his brother’s indie-rock band, The National, as they toured their 2010 breakout album “High Violet.”

The film quickly morphs from a rock-doc into an analysis of the complicated relationship between siblings.

I started this film as a fan of The National, and was mildly interested to see the “behind-the-scenes” look at their tour. The band was on the verge of greatness in 2010, and it seemed like an ideal subject for a documentary. However, it’s clear during the first 10 minutes this isn’t what the movie is about.

The film opens in Berninger’s parent’s house in Cincinnati, when we learn that his brother has invited him to go on tour with the band as part of the stage crew. While Berninger’s plan is to make the sort of movie I described, the combination of his incompetence, lack of organization and huge personality derail the project.

The ensuing film oscillates between wildly entertaining antics and awkward, heartbreaking failures. All these ups and downs are experienced through Berninger’s camera lens, as he live-narrates with insecure, charming bluster. The result is fascinating, even if it’s not for everyone.

At this film’s heart is the conflict between an older, well-adjusted, successful sibling and his less-successful, floundering little brother. The best scenes feature filmmaker Tom being confronted by his brother (and lead singer) Matt about not performing his duties as a crew member. It’s immediately clear that Tom doesn’t get it; watching Matt try to artfully navigate the complicated relationship without creating an argument is fantastic.

“Mistaken for Strangers” is categorized as a documentary about a band, but it’s actually something much different. It’s immediately clear that we’re watching a study of how adult siblings interact. The fact the filmmaker doesn’t seem to realize what he’s filming until the end only adds to the intrigue.

We see an enthusiastic (and largely incompetent) filmmaker see his film crash, only to see him piece it back together with a clearer vision.

The unexpected direction of this documentary makes it well worth a final grade of B+.