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  Mistaken for Strangers He's With The Band
Year: 2013
Director: Tom Berninger
Stars: Tom Berninger, Matt Berninger, Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Bryan Devendorf, Scott Devendorf, Brandon Reid, Carin Besser, Isla Berninger, Nancy Berninger, Paul Berninger, Barack Obama, Will Arnett, Werner Herzog, John Krasinski
Genre: Documentary, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The National are an indie rock band led by Matt Berninger who after a few years labouring away at the concert circuit finally broke through to some degree of success around 2010, which was when they embarked on a world tour. There are two sets of brothers in the band, two sets of twins, but Matt has siblings too, and his brother Tom was never invited to join, being nine years younger than he is and more into heavy metal. But Tom has another interest too, and that is filmmaking: he has directed some amateur projects and thinks that going with Matt on that tour will not only mean he gets to see the sights on other continents and cities, but if he brings his camera along then he'll be able to amass enough footage to make a documentary.

Mistaken for Strangers arrived on the scene trumpeted as a real life This is Spinal Tap, and one of the funniest depictions of a band in recent years with the bonus of it all being true. The actual truth of that was debatable, however, since the experience of watching it came across like a combination of someone's haphazard home movies and a carefully scripted mockumentary with some concert clips thrown in to add a dash of authenticity. As many observed, it was less about the band than it was about the fractious yet affectionate relationship between the two Berninger brothers, which you either found hilarious or very trying in a short amount of time.

Tom depicts himself as a loveable goofball with a resumé which basically includes some low rent horror videos; he also appears to have watched American Movie, the benchmark for such mixtures of actual pathos and humour, and decided to apply that tone to his sibling rivalry. In fact, the matter boils down to the way that nobody would have hired him to accompany the band if they were in their right mind, and Matt's loyalty to him looks more like a passive aggressive manner of getting lots of people pissed off with his brother to put him in his place - what's irksome was that Tom came across as being secretly in on the joke, and played up the shambling irritant part to the hilt.

If you were a fan of The National, you would assuredly want to watch this, if only to see if you could spot yourself in the crowd should you have attended a concert that was filmed, but to the unconvinced you might be wondering what the big deal was. Their music sounds doleful and lacking a genuine hook, though Matt's antics to get as close to the audience as possible (basically throwing himself into their arms while performing) provided a novelty at least. Not that you had a chance to really assess the tunes, since you heard snippets of each song which were then dismissed in favour of the Tom 'n' Matt show, leaving the band like any number of other self-serious indie rockers. You'd know before even watching this if these were your type of musicians.

And if you didn't, you'd have a pretty good sense of them after watching them politely endure Tom's dreadful interview technique, apparently designed to make Borat sound professional and prepared. His lack of any skills are laid on so thick that they quickly become tiresome, as if he had settled on his shtick and there was no way he was going to consider giving up on it now. There are a couple of amusing moments, such as when he shows one of the band his previous horror work leaving the poor chap looking dumbfounded that this buffoon is in charge of what presumably could be a P.R. disaster, but in the main Mistaken for Strangers tested the nerves far more than you expect the makers intended. Then there's that feeling it was set up: who is operating the camera most of the time? It's certainly not Tom. And we never see him left behind on the tour which is the straw that breaks the camel's back as far as everyone else tolerating him goes. Which leaves us with the brotherly love element, though that too is rather pat. It's OK, but overpraising it did it no favours.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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