Matt Berninger

The Berninger brothers in MISTAKEN FOR STRANGERS

A secret service member glances at Tom Berninger, our filmmaker/protagonist/underdog hero, and gives him a piercing glance of total disregard, waving him to get out of the way in such a fashion that both rigidly instructs Tom and potently ignores the fact that he exists. It’s such a brief yet powerfully condescending look, and puts us directly in the shoes of someone who is invisible while surrounded by those who are hyper-visible. Moments later, Matt Berninger, Tom’s brother and lead singer of the successful indie rock band The National, tells Tom, “I’m sorry you didn’t get to meet the President.” Matt is achingly sincere in this sentiment, yet you can tell he hates the fact that such an unavoidably haughty-sounding sentence just tumbled out of his mouth. Mistaken for Strangers is less a tour documentary about a successful rock band, and more a chronicle of one dude’s attempt to accomplish something in the shadow of his far more successful brother. It’s Don’t Look Back by way of American Movie: an intimate behind-the-scenes portrayal of rock stardom, but framed by an intoxicating irreverence that relieves the film of any stuffy adulation that so often burdens many rockumentaries. Who would have thought a band as solemn and tortured as The National would be involved in a documentary so surprisingly funny and unapologetically sincere?

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Mistaken for Strangers

If you asked Matt Berninger what his younger brother, Tom Berninger, thinks of indie rock, he’d tell you it straight: “he thinks indie rock is pretentious bullshit.” Which is a bit of a problem, because Matt is the lead singer of beloved indie band The National and Tom is about to go on tour with The National to capture a documentary about, well, The National. Will Tom change his mind about indie rock? Probably not, but he might just change his mind about just about everything else. The basic plot of Berninger’s Mistaken for Strangers is almost eerily movie-ready. The National is, as one journalist puts it, a band of brothers – a group composed of the Devendorfs (Scott and Bryan) and the Dessners (Aaron and Bryce, who also happen to be twins, just for good measure), along with lead singer Matt – and while Tom is ostensibly coming on tour to help out with basic roadie duties, he’s actually there to make a movie, but he’s really there to reconnect with his brother.

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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