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Five Views: Mistaken for Strangers

April 10, 2014

After premiering at Hot Docs nearly a year ago, Mistaken for Strangers is finally opening this weekend in Toronto.  The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema will be hosting a special screening tonight at 6:30 PM, which will be preceded by an introduction from The National.  You can find tickets right here, and below are our reviews of the film.

Mistaken for Strangers Poster

Mistaken for Strangers – A KinoSmith Release

Release Date: April 10th, 2014 @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Rated 14A for language and drug content

Running time: 75 minutes

Tom Berninger (dir.)

Aaron Dessner (music)

Bryce Dessner (music)

Matt Berninger as Himself

Tom Berninger as Himself

Aaron Dessner as Himself

Bryce Dessner as Himself

Bryan Devendorf as Himself

Scott Devendorf as Himself

Carin Besser as Herself

Nancy Berninger as Herself

Paul Berninger as Himself

Mistaken for Strangers

©KinoSmith. All Rights Reserved.

Brothers Matt and Tom Berninger in Mistaken for Strangers.

Our reviews below:


Mistaken for Strangers Review By John Corrado

**** (out of 4)

Fans of the critically acclaimed indie rock band The National will know the group is made up of two sets of brothers, along with lead singer Matt Berninger, leading some to assume that he is an only child.  But his younger brother Tom Berninger is the one behind the excellent Mistaken for Strangers, which was a standout of last year’s Hot Docs.

When The National was going on tour, Matt invited his brother along as a roadie.  Bringing a camera with him to capture all of the action, Tom comes prepared for a wild ride of rock concerts and parties, but ends up realizing just how little he has achieved in comparison to his older brother.  Determined to make a documentary about the band to prove that he can actually see something through to the end, the result is a deeply personal film about self discovery and a fascinating behind the scenes look at The National.

What I love about Mistaken for Strangers is the way that we see the roles reversing between these two siblings who couldn’t be me more different, but have more things in common than either one might want to admit.  When they were growing up, Tom was always the more free spirited and inventive artist, and Matt was the one who struggled with depression as he tried to get his band off the ground.  Now Tom is the one depressed, living in the shadow of his brother who gets all of the attention.

Named for a track on The National’s 2007 album Boxer, Mistaken for Strangers works on multiple levels, both as an often hilarious music film and a moving look at the way siblings interact.  We also get a meta deconstruction of the documentary format watching Tom struggle to piece all of his footage together with the help of an amusing wall of sticky notes, even witnessing the disastrous results of the first test screening.  This is a crowdpleaser in every sense of the word.  There is plenty of exhilarating concert footage throughout, as The National’s songs are memorably used as part of the soundtrack.

“I just wanna make something good,” Tom says to the camera with emotional desperation, “for him and the band, as well as myself.”  I can safely say that he has succeeded, and delivers something truly special with Mistaken for Strangers.  Essential viewing for fans of The National and a true crowdpleaser that is pretty much universally relatable, this is a wildly entertaining concert documentary, with a touching story about two brothers reconnecting.


Mistaken for Strangers Review By Erin V.

***1/2 (out of 4)

When asked to go along on tour to help out backstage for his brother’s band, Tom Berninger decided to take a small handheld camera along to make a documentary about Matt Berninger and The National.  What started as a documentary focusing on The National frontman Matt, becomes more about the filmmaker Tom and his struggle to figure out where he fits in in all this.  Nine years younger than his famous brother, he is stuck trying to make something finally work in his own life.

The film’s technical style could be described as inept at times (almost more home movieish), but somehow it all works.  Tom films his brother and the other band members very much like the younger brother – occasionally making them say things or do things that make them look a little stupid on camera.  But it makes it entertaining for us.  He asks them random questions and operates on a free-level that only a brother could have.  One thing is sure, if Matt Berninger’s own brother hadn’t been making this film, it would have been a lot more about The National, and a lot less of a portrait of them as real people.  And I am sure some of what is in here would have been demanded cut.  But on the other hand, what the film did become is something we don’t see often.

Somehow, the film comes together with an arc that by the last act makes it one of the best films to come out of Toronto’s Hot Docs last year.  Mistaken For Strangers is not a concert film, but rather a very human one that gives an interesting look into what it’s like to be the sibling of someone famous, and even fame in itself.  One thing’s for sure – for those familiar with The National they will definitely want to check this one out, and it will likely create new fans of the band as well.  But it also brings Tom into the spotlight and that is what is so interesting here.


Mistaken for Strangers Review By Nicole

*** (out of 4)

Have you ever felt like the insignificant sibling?  Tom Berninger, the funny and hyperactive brother of The National’s lead man Matt Berninger, certainly does.  The National is an indie rock band that is mostly comprised of brother pairs; Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and Scott and Bryan Devendorf.  That leaves Matt, whose brother Tom isn’t in the band.  So Tom decides to a make a documentary about himself touring with them.

Tom, more of a Heavy Metal guy, still enjoys his brother’s company.  He makes himself noticed by acting goofy, getting the band members to act goofy, and sneaking up on them with the camera.  He also interviews his mom, a landscape painter, and his dad, a carpenter.  Tom also has a talent in visual art; his quirky cartoons are funny and quite detailed, with a good sense of composition.  But as Tom reflects on his family, he gets quite sad, feeling like the family fool.  In a wolf pack, he would be the omega, the funny and low-ranking class clown.

But after acknowledging his feelings (even crying sometimes), he realizes that, while not everyone is in the spotlight, everyone can shine in their own way.  Everyone has a role to play, and Tom finally finds his niche.  Mistaken for Strangers is a moving, very human documentary.  Tom perfectly captures adult sibling dynamics, and the left-out feelings of the underdog.  But this documentary is ultimately positive, giving underdogs a voice, and celebrating the seemingly small roles.  After all, it’s the behind the scenes people that make the world go round.


Mistaken for Strangers Review By Maureen

*** (out of 4)

Sometimes it’s a fine line between sibling rivalry and sibling bonding, even as adults.  “Mistaken for Strangers” is the title of one of the songs by the acclaimed indie rock band The National.  It’s also the title of the genuinely honest documentary by Tom Berninger, The National’s lead singer Matt Berninger’s younger brother.

Matt and Tom are in many ways exact opposites.  Matt is intense, driven and successful.  Tom is hyper, unfocused, prefers heavy metal, is a visual artist and dabbles in making horror movies.  Tom has always looked up to his older brother, and is excited when Matt offers him a chance to join the band on tour as a roadie.  Tom figures why not film the experience, so people can get to know The National better and he can spend time with and learn more about his brother Matt’s lifestyle.

The result is an often funny, often painful but honest look at the dynamic between brothers.  Tom gets on everyone’s nerves as he randomly films them and messes up with his duties as a working crew member.  Working in his shadow, Tom has to come to terms with the reality that he may never be perceived as successful like Matt, but that’s okay.

While not a technically perfect film, Mistaken for Strangers has a charming home movie feel that entertains and touches viewers with its honest look at adult sibling dynamics.  Fans of The National will want to check this one out.


Mistaken for Strangers Review By Tony

**1/2 (out of 4)

Mistaken for Strangers is the result of an invitation from Matt Berninger, lead singer for the band The National, to his younger brother Tom to emerge from his parents’ basement in Cincinnati to help out on their next tour. Despite his preference for heavy metal over his brother’s softer style, as a budding filmmaker Tom agrees to go as an opportunity to spend time with Matt and shoot this documentary.

The resulting 75 minute film shot on a consumer camcorder is often annoyingly amateurish but particularly for fans of the band it is an interesting look at the close relationship between two brothers who couldn’t be more different from one another.


Consensus: Directed by Tom Berninger, the meta documentary Mistaken for Strangers is both hilarious and touching, providing an amateur behind the scenes look at acclaimed band The National coupled with a heartfelt story about brothers. ***1/4 (out of 4)

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