Mistaken for Strangers (London Film Festival 2013)
I used to think The National were for anyone too embarrassed to admit they like Bruce Springsteen, or frightened of Interpol’s danceability. Mistaken for Strangers doesn’t change my opinion, but it also isn’t really about The National.
The charmingly low-key film largely documents the indie band’s recent tour, without requiring any knowledge or passion for the music. In fact, it might even help. The director, Tom Berninger, is the younger brother of Matt, the lead singer; Matt invites Tom to be a roadie, in a act halfway between nepotism and pity. Instead of gratitude, Tom offers little indication he cares about The National’s style – he’s a self-proclaimed metal head frustrated that too many of the band are “coffee house”.
Tom isn’t constructing a slur piece, even if The National often come across as humourless dullards who take themselves too seriously (which, come on, is obvious from the music). Instead, he focuses on his sibling rivalry with Matt: there’s little about life in a rock band, but more on what it’s like to live in your famous brother’s shadow. The pair barely seem related; Tom’s an unsuccessful Jack Black doppelganger, while Matt’s handsome figure emerges from hotel rooms in a dapper suit and sunglasses.
Tom’s goofiness is integral to Mistaken for Strangers maintaining its unlikely heart, as he plays the underdog card – the band and crew tolerate interview questions like “Where do you see The National in 50 years? 40?” Not only does he look like Jack Back, but he shares a “lovable jerk” persona. When Tom shouts, “Hey Moby!” in a swimming pool, it could easily be from The School of Rock.
Mistaken for Strangers is extremely funny, mainly from throwing misfit Tom on tour with such a miserable band – they’re self-serious and lacking sentimentality, the opposite of Tom. When he’s sent back home to Cincinnati, the film falters with a lack of authenticity; there’s much rewriting of one’s story, as expected, and neatly tied loose ends. But for the actual tour, there’s a touching story of sibling jealousy: standing on the outside looking in as your brother is loved every night by adorning fans (including Werner Herzog), while you’re occupied with a Toblerone.
Mistaken for Strangers is part of the London Film Festival’s “Sonic” strand. Screening information can be found here.
United States of America
75 mins approx