Mistaken For Strangers

This is a film by Tom Berninger, you don’t know him, but you might know his older brother Matt who is the lead singer of indie rock band The National. Ostensibly a documentary about The National, the film is actually about Tom; his search for meaning, purpose, and his own success in the shadow of his older taller more popular brother Matt.

This film made me laugh, a lot. It has a mockumentary feel ( I guess it is hard for any doc about a band to not have a hint of Spinal Tap about it); quite honestly some of the questions Tom asks the band members are so mind boggling that you wonder if indeed they are all in on some meta-joke.  However, it becomes clear that this is who Tom genuinely is. He’s talented – the most talented according to his mother – but he desperately needs a plan and indeed the opening sequence is of an exasperated Matt sat in a park asking Tom if he actually has any sort of plan for the film; this is a continuing theme throughout.

Tom becomes a roadie for the band; the plan is to hang with them for a year and film at the same time. It soon becomes clear that Tom isn’t really cut out for the job, not least because of his “allergy” to alcohol; some of the most Tap-esque scenes are of the tour manager berating Tom repeatedly for being so crap at the job assigned to him.

A disingenuous and lovable buffoon is how Tom comes across but everyone is rooting for him; not least his brother who tells him not to let bad luck paralyze him from moving forward; he has to fake it and keep going. The relationship between the 2 brothers is heart-warming and real; and this is why the film works. Tom is like many of us; living in the shadow of a more successful older sibling and quitting or sabotaging yourself before you can really fail – because that seems easier. But his mother is right, you have to see things through to the end, and thankfully Tom did because this film is the result. So well done Tom, you made it, you made this film, you saw it through until the end and it made me laugh and touched my heart.

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