Mistaken for Strangers Movie Review
With a loose, rambling style, this documentary starts as a backstage glimpse of a rock tour before shifting into an exploration of brotherhood and finally into something much more self-reflective. It's a hybrid of comedy and emotion that gets under the skin even if the movie's central figure, director Tom Berninger, is both charming and deeply annoying.
As the film starts, Tom gets a job as a roadie for his older brother Matt's band The National, which is enjoying its first wave of success by staging a world tour across Europe and North America. Since Matt's bandmates are two pairs of brother (Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Bryan and Scott Devendorf), Tom feels like he completes the set. As a filmmaker, Tom has made a few cheesy horror movies, and now wants to make a rock-tour doc about his experience. In the process, he hopes to bond with Matt, because their large age difference means that they've never had much time to get to know each other. But it's quickly apparent that Tom doesn't have much in common with Matt, most notably because he's a heavy metal fan who doesn't really like The National's music.
Essentially, Tom is a Zach Galifianakis-like slacker who never takes any of his work seriously and seems like he would be exhausting to be around for more than a few minutes at a time. His lack of effort in his job seriously annoys the band's manager Brandon Reid, and the film Tom is making feels so unplanned that it meanders all over the place. But this allows him to find all kinds of natural humour in the situations, including some in which he's clowning around for his unseen camera crew. Several scenes are reminiscent of Spinal Tap, as Tom's goofy interview style makes the bandmates wonder if they should try to answer the questions or just break down laughing. And along with this endearing silliness, the film also captures some strikingly telling scenes that highlight the sibling relationship between Tom and Matt.
One of the more revealing moments comes when Tom is thrown off the tour bus and returns home to Cincinnati, where he interviews their parents Nancy and Paul about the differences between him and Matt. He does end up rejoining the band in Brooklyn for recording sessions. And while there are signs that he has learned something from this situation, he remains the bratty little brother character, jealous of Matt's success but not willing to do the work required to be a success himself. In other words, along with being an often hilarious and sometimes annoying road movie, this is also a surprisingly observant film about a generation gap that says a lot about Western society.