If you’re a fan indie rock or the live music scene at large, you will like this film. If you’re a fan of Radiohead’s Meeting People is Easy, you will like this film. If you are a fan of The National, you will really like this film. And if you find the Zach Galifianakis brand of humor funny, not only will you love this film, but you should mark it down as a must see.
Granted, Galifianakis is nowhere to be found in this 80 minute rockumentary, but his doppelganger is surely manifested in the form of one Tom Berninger, whose much-older brother Matt happens to be the lead singer of the band. The basic premise is easy; The National are about to embark on their biggest tour to date, and, in not having much opportunity to grow up and bond as brothers in their youth, Matt invites Tom out on the road as a roadie. Tom, a gifted artist, fledgling horror movie director and metal aficionado, decides to bring his HD camera along, because he’s “gonna make a documentary about the band.” Right, then.
As brothers, the Berningers couldn’t be any more different. Beyond art, they’re complete foils of each other: Matt is tall, handsome, broods a lot (as lead singers should) and commands respect. Tom is basically Galifianakis in the Hangover franchise, except he really is like Galifianakis. Naturally. He constantly invents new ways to fail and get on everyone’s nerves, to the point that in one scene, one of the tour managers asks to see a cut of the footage Tom has compiled because “people are concerned.” Tom’s a heavy drinker, but not the bumbling humours kind, and it’s oddly touching that Matt refers to his alcoholism as an “allergy”. Tom is completely impervious to the fact that he rubs everyone the wrong way, but the band itself doesn’t seem to mind, and really, for the sake of the documentary this is a very critical point. Tom sets out to make a film about the band, but it organically evolves into a story about two brothers trying to find common ground while one overachieves and one stands on the sidelines. In a rather poignant moment, Tom confesses to the camera, “My brother has always been the rock star, and I am not. I have to live with that.”
Consider Mistaken for Strangers one of my top 3 films of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Perhaps its not the most in-depth look into a band that one could hope for, but in shedding light on the real-family issues that surround being related to a famous person—and not in a shallow, cheesy MTV reality sort of way—it covers some remarkable ground and should be considered in the canon of rockumentaries that actually provide insight that matters.
Final public screening: tonight at 9:30pm, SVA Theatre