In Mistaken for Strangers, a Familial Hanger-On Makes a Doc about The National


In Mistaken for Strangers, filmmaker Tom Berninger uses brother Matt, lead singer of indie rock band The National, to feel better about himself. This is especially frustrating since Tom reunites with Matt while The National perform and promote their chart-topping album High Violet, itself worth a film.

But since Mistaken for Strangers is all about Tom, there’s virtually no uninterrupted concert footage. At first, Tom presents himself as a goofy, insensitive kid. He spills milk all over his and Matt’s shared hotel room, forgets to tell Matt that Werner Herzog and the cast of Lost are waiting to party with the band, and pouts when he can’t join The National when they meet President Obama. That might have been funny if Tom weren’t always pouting, like when he whines, “You’re way more famous than any of my friends,” and Matt stammers back, “That’s . . . OK.”

Tom further stokes his rivalry with Matt by having his mom compare the brothers’ childhood drawings; she abashedly insists that Matt was always her “most talented” son. Tom even comes off like a putz after he admits that Matt’s success is well-earned. He listens thoughtfully when Matt says he’s grateful that The National aren’t performing for empty auditoriums anymore.

But when Tom finally shares his brother’s success, and holds Matt’s mic cord when he dives into a packed auditorium, it’s too little, too late. Tom predictably shifts Mistaken for Strangers‘ focus back to himself in the film’s concluding scene when a friend asks if he’s done making his film: “I’m getting close. Just let me figure it out.”

Mistaken for Strangers doesn’t reveal anything about Tom but his own insecurity.