Riding high on the success of their 2010 album ‘High Violet’, New York indie rockers The National embarked on a world tour. But don’t expect a typical behind-the-scenes chronicle from Tom Berninger’s calculatedly ramshackle, though often poignant, documentary debut. For starters, Berninger is the brother of lead vocalist Matt Berninger, who hires his younger sibling as a roadie for the group. In between his backstage duties – at which he proves himself ridiculously incompetent – Tom videotapes the band’s comings and goings and conducts a few hilariously off-point interviews that inevitably circle away from his subjects and back to him. Tom’s blundering ineptitude is part of the charm, and his numerous what-kind-of-movie-am-I-making? laments eventually give his project focus. (Not for nothing is there a cameo from Werner Herzog, no stranger to shaking up the non-fiction format.)
What holds ‘Mistaken for Strangers’ back is the frequent impression that Tom is playing up his foibles and failures. He’s so much the depressive ne’er-do-well, especially in the latter half when he moves in with Matt and his wife, Carin, that he seems like a walking contrivance created to give The National a more human face (popular musicians have family problems too!) while still promoting the group’s brand. The brotherly-love epiphany to which the film builds plucks the heartstrings. But there’s a lingering sense that we’re being had.