Mistaken for Strangers
Saturday 12th October, 9pm – Hackney Picturehouse, Screen 1
Tuesday 15th October, 6.30pm – Screen on the Green
Saturday 19th October, 3.30pm – Ritzy, Screen 2
The National are a literal band of brothers: the Dessners (Aaron and Bryce), the Devendorfs (Bryan and Scott) and lead-singer Matt Berninger. Mistaken for Strangers is the touching documentary by Matt’s younger brother Tom about life in the shadow of a rock star.
However, the film has almost nothing to do with The National. Their tour is the setting and their music the expectedly fantastic soundtrack, but this is no rock-doc – the band barely even registers. This is, rather, an anthem for loser younger brothers. As Tom says: “Having Matt as your older brother kind of sucks: he’s a rock star and I’m not and it’s always been that way.”
Matt is polite, quiet and considered while Tom is brash, lazy and seemingly facile – and yet has an endearing charisma. The questions he asks (such as “How famous do you think you are?” and “Where do you see The National in 50 years time?”) are neither insightful nor sharp. But they are funny, and it is in Tom’s clumsiness that Mistaken for Strangers finds its heart. He’s hilarious in his candour and disarming in his deficiencies.
It’s all the more heartrending when Tom is inevitably fired from the tour. This is where brotherly love saves the day – Matt invites Tom to stay in his New York flat to complete his documentary. He motivates, chides and goads his younger brother into finishing what he started – a rare thing for Tom, one may suspect.
The result is glorious, which raises one question: How can a loutish, drunk, lazy, unfocused man with limited experience of making terrible movies possibly produce such a slick, well-paced, tone-perfect, self-deprecating documentary? It’s not possible. Is the Tom we see a mere persona? An idiot-mask put on to dupe audiences? A Tim Westwood of the indie-rock-doc world?
This seems unlikely. Perhaps, as the film suggests, Tom merely got his act together. Tom and Matt’s relationship certainly has the hallmarks of genuine brotherhood. Each has a hold over the other, and when together they revert back to childhood japes and immature nonsense.
As a documentary on a band Mistaken for Strangers is fundamentally flawed: there’s not much live footage, few interviews and other than the director’s sibling none of the band members leave an impression that would see out a high-tide. But as a treatise on brothers it is poignant, astute and utterly entertaining. This film hits all the right notes.
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Watch the trailer to Mistaken for Strangers here: