Decades after Ross McElwee invented the navel-gazing school of documentary
filmmaking with “Sherman’s March,” Tom Berninger adds a new wrinkle to the genre
with “Mistaken for Strangers.” Berninger is hero and villain of this comic essay
in ineptitude masquerading as a rock band on tour doc.
Berninger is the hapless and unintentionally hilarious younger brother of
Matt Berninger, lead singer/leading light of The National — critical darlings
and hot indie rock band of the moment. You’d never put the dopey, slovenly Tom
together with long, lean and motivated Matt as spawn of the same Mom. But there
you are. They’re “Mistaken for Strangers.”
Tom is hired as an unschooled roadie for The National’s European and North
American tour, which he decides he’ll document with a cheap camcorder.
“That is NOT in your job description,” the road manager, named Brandon,
gripes. Brandon plainly resents the dead, drunken weight that is Tom added to
his road crew.
And with every awkward interview, Tom, who has made some DIY sword and
sorcery and horror pictures, seems to suggest that no, not just any idiot can
make a movie. Especially not this one.
He blunders through his tour responsibilities. He’s the guy who must make
sure Matt’s onstage at the right moment. Tom misplaces him, and we see him dash
out to find the singer.
He interviews his brother surrounded by indie rock groupies in London.
“So, how famous do you think you are?”
“Not ‘Us Weekly’ famous,” cracks Matt, who indulges his brother far more than
mere mortals would. We also see Matt lose his temper, lecture his brother on his
drinking, on missing the bus, on screwing up even the simplest jobs.
“How many drugs have you done?” Tom tactlessly asks the drummer. “I don’t
want to pry.”
The guitarist gets “I’ve always wondered, do you carry wallets? Do you have
ID on stage with you?”
The band rocks out from Krakow to Berlin, then crosses the States —
appearing at an Obama rally here, a New York or LA showcase there.
The band’s management team starts to express “concerns. Because Tom records
it all, and whines. A lot. He is, at his best, a self-absorbed doofus tagging
along on a tour, embarrassing the band.
And if you don’t think that’s a new and kind of cool perspective, you’re
underestimating him and his little film. This is as intentionally haphazard as
any band-on-tour documentary since that cracked Kiefer Sutherland one, “I Trust
You to Kill Me.” And most miraculous of all, by the finale, Tom and Matt an we
figure it all out. Maybe any idiot can make a movie.
Cast: Matt Berninger, Tom Berninger, members of The National
Credits: Directed by Tom Berninger. A Starz release.
Running time: 1:15