Take a Drink: every time someone ignores Tom
Take a Drink: whenever they are annoyed by or angry with him
Take a Drink: whenever somebody talks about his drinking
Take a Drink: for each new city
Take a Drink: for brotherly ribbing
Take a Drink: for every The National song you actually hear
Do a Shot: Werner Herzog!
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
My best buddy and fellow MovieBoozer contributor Oberst is probably the biggest music geek/expert (geekspert? expeek?), so of course he’s the one that first turned me on to The National, and in true music fan fashion, years before the mainstream caught on. In the years since, they’ve always remained favorites, never losing their ability to raise goosebumps with their authentic power.
Mistaken for Strangers is a documentary kinda about them. Really, it’s about Tom Berninger, brother of lead singer Matt Berninger, a borderline fuckup still living at home with the parents who Matt offers a roadie position in The National’s upcoming breakout tour, right after they hit it big with High Violet. Tom, who’s made some Troma-style cheapie splatter flicks, decides to make a rock doc of the experience, and, well, you’re watching it.
What begins in theory as a documentary about a famous band and singer soon becomes much more a portrait of its maker, and his relationship with his much more successful and famous brother, along the way turning the next trick of humanizing that famous subject and delivering a much more relatable final product. Who hasn’t felt that weird mix of pride and jealousy for a sibling or family member or classmate’s accomplishments, and who doesn’t think they squandered their youthful potential in some way great or small?
Nope, this is exactly where I planned to be at 35
What makes Mistaken for Strangers damn entertaining in addition to insightful is how much of a capital C Character Tom Berninger is. He’s very personable, sarcastic, and humorous, but underneath his insecurities are on full display, and through interactions with him, so are Matt’s. He’s just a normal guy, in turns exasperated by and worried for his little brother.
Supporting this thesis are shaky, first-person footage and scattershot editing, but they’re deceptive in their simplicity and rawness. Tom is a real filmmaker, and there’s absolutely a method to his madness- a clear editing through-line and some impressive shots he couldn’t help but include. When you see where he’s driving at towards the end, you have to appreciate his approach- it’s damn near meta.
It also raises some questions. There’s an element of artificiality that sometimes make you wonder how much of a somewhat conventional narrative has been teased or massaged out of this footage (or even pre-planned). Once the rousing final shot and sequence passes by, you’ll likely find you don’t care, but as always with films self-identifying as documentaries, it’s a nagging doubt.
Mistaken for Strangers may start out a rock documentary about The National, but becomes an American Movie-style portrait of an eccentric dreamer and his famous brother, and the family bonds that support and bind them both.