Mistaken for Strangers (2014)

Little brothers, right?

Indie rock band the National have been recording, touring and rocking the meager-sized, hidden ballrooms of the world for the past 14 or so years. Most of the cool kids who listen to them, love and adore the hell out of them, and usually credit lead-singer/song-writer Matt Berninger for making them feel that way. What’s strange though, is that while the rest of the band is made-up of two-sets of brothers, Matt is the only lone wolf of the group. However, he does have a brother; the kind of brother he’s a little hesitant to even speak about. And when you meet him, you’ll sort of see why. His name Tom – he’s over-thirty, a bit of a bum, he doesn’t really care for indie music at all, listens to heavy-metal Christmas tunes from the lead-singer of Judas Priest, paints strange-looking portraits of dismembered limbs, and occasionally, makes movies. But the problem with Tom isn’t that he isn’t a talented guy, it’s just that he is constantly living in the shadow of his much more famous, more successful, older-brother. But older bro Matt sees some potential in little bro Tom, so he decides that it would be best for him to come along for the tour that the National is embarking on, where he can highlight the band, be a roadie and not try to fuck everything up. That’s definitely easier said then done, but Tom refuses to give up on this documentary, even when it seems like all of the signs are telling him to do so.

A generally misguided preconception many make about rock-docs (or for lack of a better term, “rockumentaries”) is that in order for one to enjoy them, one must know and already be a fan of the band/artist/talentless-hack, that the documentary is in fact about. In some cases, this is true (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster), but in other cases, not really, especially when the band is about as unknown or as bizarre as the band you and your buds tried to “break big” with while practicing in your parent’s garage from 2:30-4:15, before either of them came back and found out that you were playing the devil’s music (A Band Called Death).

Resemblance? Eh, facial-hair I guess.
Resemblance? Eh, facial-hair I guess.

However, with Mistaken for Strangers, you don’t have to do either to enjoy it. Sure, it may help if you know one song by the National, or at least know that they’re part of that early-21st Century, infusion cool, indie bands from NYC that were so prevalent when everybody started turning on N’SYNC and Britney Spears. Either way, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you know how it feels to have a family member in your life that you care about, love and wish the best for. It doesn’t matter if it’s a brother, sister, mother, father, daughter, parrot, ancestor you feel these emotions for; all that matters is that you have these emotions for someone in your life.

If you don’t and you’re just a lonely, angry and anti-social human being who is incapable of having any feelings whatsoever, then I’m sorry, but you may not like this movie. However, if you aren’t that type of person, then you’re going to come pretty close to loving it. Kind of like I did, although, oddly enough, in an act of my inner-fan coming out, I would have liked an actual documentary on the National themselves. But hey, you can’t always get what you want, right?

By the way, that’s not a National song. That’s the Rolling Stones, for any of ya’ll that need some music-knowledge out there, yo!

Anyway, where this documentary really struck a chord with me is in how much it had me thinking about the relationship my little bro and I have, and how it sort of connected to the one of Matt and Tom Berninger’s. No, neither I, nor my brother front a popular, alt-rock-ish band, but we do have problems with living up to the expectations that our parents had made for both of us. During the early years of my life, due to my height, weight, size and affinity for eating an unhealthy amount of cheese-steaks, I was expected to be a rough, tough and masculine football player, much like my dad was. No, they didn’t expect me to become a pro and become the white version of Lawrence Taylor, coke-snorting off of hookers and all, but they wanted me to try my hardest and really work at this dream they had set-out for me, which I did my best to achieve and not let them down.

As for my little bro, they expected him to be the white version of Usain Bolt, minus the hormone-injections. When he was younger, he was fast as hell man, and he was pretty ruthless son-of-a-bitch too, that never stopped breaking his back for whatever it was that he wanted. In a way, he’s sort of still like that to this day, even if all he does is lift for hours-on-end, flexing and lip-syncing to Rick Ross simultaneously.

Anyway, where I’m trying to go with this is that, as you could expect, one of these dreams were not fully achieved. In case you need any more further clearance on who that person was, it was me. Yes, believe it or not, in my spare-time away from DTMMR, I am not sacking QB’s, intercepting passes, or partying like it’s the XFL all over again; I’m sort of the guy most of you probably perceive me as being, an entertainment-junkie that loves to write, read, listen to music, and on occasion, go outside and get a nice farmer’s tan. As for my little bro, he sort of went the same path; he stopped running, and instead, focused more on his studies, his abs-of-steel and how many creative-ways he could tell my parents to “fuck off”.

Oh, what it was once like to be young, rebellious, and full of all sorts of angst.

Though neither him nor myself really talk about it much, there is some feeling that the other sibling has a little bit more to live up to than the other. I would like to be fit as much as him, whereas he would definitely like to be a little bit more into what’s going on with the world, in terms of music, movies, celebrities, or what have you. We don’t resent each other because of that, we just know that there’s some competition and tension there. Then again, that’s just how brothers are; it’s not a bad thing, or a good thing, it’s just a thing. As plain and simple as day.

That’s why when I saw Tom and Matt’s relationship – how the older one clearly believes in the promise the younger one holds – I couldn’t help but feel some sort of connection. Not to say that I believe, one day, my little brother will become somebody who sits on his ass and reads movie news each and every day of his life, but I do believe there’s ways in which we can both help each other and live up to whatever set of ideals we have for one another. It’s a weird, and a bit hard to spell-out here, but that’s only because it’s a thing us O’Neill brothers have. Sorry if you ain’t with it.

But in the case of Tom and Matt, you can see that they both love each other. Even though Matt is definitely all cooped-up with his band, his wife, his kid and his career, he still has time to encourage Tom and doesn’t act like he isn’t even there. In fact, throughout most of the movie, we actually hear and see Matt sticking up for his little brother, even when that said little brother is in actually being a fuck-up, getting blitzed when he’s not supposed to and putting his camera in too many’s people’s faces. Hell, they even share the same hotel rooms throughout most of the duration of the tour! If that doesn’t scream “brotherly love”, I don’t know what will!

Umbrella in the middle of Prospect Park. So indie.
Umbrella in the middle of Prospect Park. So indie.

Okay, maybe the city of Philadelphia, but that’s besides the point.

Both of them, Matt and Tom, are generally likable guys. Matt is as pretentious as I expected him to be just by listening to his music, but he never comes-off like a “dick”, which I think was very important into how this documentary is viewed. And as for Tom, well, he’s a bit of a goofball. Actually, correction, he’s a total and complete goofball. However, he’s a total and complete goofball, that is endearing and the type of guy we can get behind, even when he seems to just be stupid, for no apparent reason, other than to just be stupid.

Actually, one of my main problems with this movie is that seeing as how he directed and made this movie his own-self, I can’t help but feel like he was putting a show on a bit. Not just for his brother and the rest of the band, but for the movie itself. He asks dumb questions to other members of the band, that always seem to revolve around his big brother Matt, and even when some of them do have the heart to answer the poor numskull’s questions, he cuts them-off and instead, says his peace. I felt like a bit too much of that wasn’t sincere and it was just his own way of messing around with the movie, and putting his own stamp on it. Which, yes, makes sense since this is his movie, his documentary, which also happens to be about him and his brother, but sometimes a little bit too much of it can only go on for so long.

Eventually though, Matt and Tom’s relationship comes more and more into play as we see them come together and try their hardest to connect to one another, even if they are a bit different in terms of personality and general-tastes. However, they are blood brothers. And what usually comes with blood is love, devotion, care and the idea that no matter how many times you two may fight and get disappointed with one another, you’re still family and you gots to stick together. If that doesn’t strike a chord, I don’t know what will, you lonely, angry and anti-social human being.

Consensus: Being a fan of the National as is, doesn’t affect whether or not you like Mistaken for Strangers, an effective, and relatively emotional documentary that touches on the strong bond that is between family members, particularly brothers.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

I think we can all relate to having to bail-out a family member in the middle of a swarming crowd.
I think we can all relate to having to bail-out a family member in the middle of a swarming crowd.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBCollider


  1. Nice Review 🙂 I’m one of ‘those’ fans that’s slightly in love with the band. Really great music. Need to get round to watching this, but I’m glad non National fans can appreciate this too! Especially as the rest of my family find their music depressing (emo music for adults as my dad likes to say) – so they might enjoy this?

  2. I’m actually a big fan of the National, so I’ll probably really enjoy this. Good to know it’s worth a watch. Good write-up Dan!

  3. Solid review man .Count me in as another National follower. Love their music, love Matt Berninger, he’s a complete dork. I can’t wait to watch this, did you see it in a theater ?

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