“Do you have any sort of organization or plan for this movie?”
So says Matt Berninger to his brother, Tom, who is directing a rock documentary about Matt’s band, The National. Mistaken for Strangers is both a document of that effort and the result. My suspicion, especially given that Tom gets directorial credit here while Matt and his bandmates are listed as producers, is that there was more planning and organizing going on than the finished product would have you believe. It wasn’t exactly a tug, but I certainly sensed that Mistaken for Strangers was pulling my leg.
Not that this makes it any less fun. As a chronicle, however embellished, of two brothers – one driven and famous, the other distracted and everyday – assessing their relationship while on a global concert tour, Mistaken for Strangers has intrigue and personality to spare. Whether he’s playing a character or simply being his goofy self, Tom Berninger is an impishly comic figure, more concerned with asking the band members inane questions (“Who’s faster on guitar?”) than fulfilling the basic roadie duties that he’s been assigned.
The scene that captures Tom’s personality best is the one in which he tries to explain the convoluted Post-It note system that is supposedly the road map to his movie. Exasperated, Matt points to an odd sketch next to the notes and asks what it is. Tom replies, “That’s a self portrait I messed up on … so I put horns on it.” Mistaken for Strangers is a self portrait too, horns and all.