There’s this strange little number named Mistaken for Strangers that has me all around impressed. The documentary is a peculiar one because it plops the audience in a position that automatically has us feeling very skeptical moments out of the gate.
We’re quickly introduced to the film’s focus – the rock and roll band The National – and shown the key element all five musicians have in common. Each member has a brother. There are two brothers in the band and two other musicians are twins. This leaves the band’s lead singer Matt Berninger. Berninger explains that he has a brother, but he’s more of the “metal type”.
Mistaken for Strangers is directed by Matt’s wayward brother, Tom. Tom’s been asked to ride along with the band to work backstage for live shows. Tom – being a filmmaker who dabbles in slasher horrors and looking for something exciting – brings along his camera in hopes of making a documentary about the life of a roadie.
What then unfolds is a mishmash of clips consisting of interviews with the band, private one-on-ones between Tom and Matt, and The National’s manager becoming more agitated with Tom’s lack of work ethic. There’s also plenty of great concert footage which will have you feeling energized.
I believe that Tom is Matt’s brother, but I also believe a fair bit in Mistaken for Strangers is emphasized for effect. However, it’s all done purposely as everyone who enters the frame tries to hold their best poker face.
Some may think Mistaken for Strangers is a doc about brotherly relationships. It kind of is. What it predominately is, however, is a non-traditional take on concert flicks.
Instead of sitting the audience down and spoon-feeding facts, the band’s personalization is translated to us through these bona fide sessions. We don’t need anyone to verbally explain that each member is modest with their success, because we see their actions and how nice they are to their fans and crew.
The same can be said for the theme about brothers. We see that family is a crucial factor in the band’s camaraderie leading to how the music gets made. The relationship between Matt and Tom acts as catharsis for each of them, which in turn helps stabilize the importance behind their need to be faithful to each other.
When the doc is dealing with these emotions, Mistaken for Strangers doesn’t get too awkward – except for those instances that highlight how much of an awful interviewer Tom is. Again, purposely. I hope.
Even though we can tell when the film is turning itself up to punctuate a point about the band, it’s never too obvious and the film’s meta layer doesn’t illustrate itself as pretentious. The film is fruitful with finding the humour in life’s predicaments.
Mistaken for Strangers is a wholly enjoyable and inquisitive experience. You’ll want to jump through the screen to catch the winsome wave.