'Mistaken For Strangers' a poorly shot family memoir

Dec 19 2017, 10:18 am

Mistaken for Strangers is the tale of two brothers. Unlike most brothers, however, the older brother is front man for a popular indie rock band.

Tom Berninger, slacker extraordinaire, follows his brother around tour as a show roadie and attempts to make a movie out of his experiences. That’s kind of as far as he gets, because there’s no rhyme or reason as to what he’d like to achieve, and the movie meanders as a result.


Matt, the lead singer of the critically acclaimed rock band The National, finally finds himself flush with success. His younger brother, Tom, is a loveable slacker – a filmmaker and metal-head still living with his parents in Cincinnati. On the eve of The National’s biggest tour to date, Matt invites Tom to work for the band as a roadie, unaware of Tom’s plan to film the entire adventure. What starts as a rock documentary soon becomes a surprisingly honest portrait of a charged relationship between two brothers, and the frustration of unfulfilled creative ambitions.

The most interesting bits of Mistaken for Strangers is the seemingly unscripted backstage access; the transformation of the band from idols back into real people. I don’t know The National well, but this intimate look might appeal to fans of the group. Tom’s unconventional way of ‘un-questioning’ leads to more personality and natural reactions from the band than any reporter interview.


Family, and the relationship between Tom and Matt ultimately take precedent over the band. A few of the band members even good-naturedly remark on how they’re just sounding boards for Tom’s relationship with Matt. There was so much more to dig into here, parallels to draw to the other four band members (also composed of two sets of brothers), but the movie never goes there.

Instead, Tom focuses on his own downward spiral of being the underdog brother – which is perhaps entertaining for the first 30 minutes, but doesn’t quite carry over to the entire length of the movie.


Mistaken for Strangers misses out on a center and is hampered by uneven and poorly shot footage. It might be worthy of a personal family album, but has less use for general consumption. There are some good nuggets in there, but I wish Tom had spent more time honing the movie and less time pandering to the camera.

All in all, give this one a miss. The synopsis proudly opens with a quote from Michael Moore: “[O]ne of the best documentaries about a band that I’ve ever seen.” But comparing Mistaken for Strangers to the strong contenders within the band documentary genre would be the greatest mistake of all.


Mistaken for Strangers final screening on April 19, 2014 at the Vancity Theatre. More information here.