Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Review: 'Mistaken for Strangers' Is a Rock Doc About The National -- Or Is It?

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire March 27, 2014 at 11:55AM

While Tom Berninger's "Mistaken For Strangers" is technically rooted in the travels of successful indie rock band The National, it would be inaccurate to characterize it as a rock documentary.
0
Matt and Tom Berninger in "Mistaken for Strangers"
Tribeca Film Festival Matt and Tom Berninger in "Mistaken for Strangers"

While Tom Berninger's "Mistaken For Strangers" is technically rooted in the travels of successful indie rock band The National, it would be inaccurate to characterize it as a rock documentary. Berninger, brother of The National frontman Matt, hardly emphasizes the history of the band's rise or its creative process. Instead, he focuses on himself—and the tensions he has shared with his sibling, nine years his senior, since childhood. The younger Berninger, a bearded, portly joker, seemingly can't get enough of his own pathetic state. The result is a witty, meandering story about a witty, meandering black sheep that never reaches beyond the average aspirations of its goofball star.

Berninger wastes no time mocking his deadbeat lifestyle, drawing an amusing contrast between The National's ballooning popularity and his unromantic life in Cincinnati, where his greatest accomplishments to date are a pair of cheesy direct-to-DVD horror movies. Intrigued by his brother's rising fame, Berninger decides to accompany The National on their world tour, helping out behind the scenes while carrying a camcorder every step of the way.

It's here that "Mistaken For Strangers" first calls into question the nature of its design: The scenario feels almost too pat, with Berninger's camera always perfectly situated to capture his various screw-ups and offbeat interactions with the band, which culminate with virtually everyone involved growing sick of his presence. Whether or not "Mistaken For Strangers" contains any staged moments, it certainly contains a familiar arc, as Berninger launches across Europe in the band's shadow in the hopes of gleaning something productive from their success. The eventual confrontation between the brothers is the kind of formulaic plot point one might expect from a screenwriting handbook.

Yet "Mistaken For Strangers" lands many of its laughs early on, when the tour plays against both Berninger's and our own expectations. With no wild parties (although the director apparently drinks aplenty) or revelatory experiences available to him, Berninger only succeeds at annoying his high anxiety brother with his lackadaisical behavior — especially once Tom latches onto the band's sole frumpy member, spacey drummer Bryan Devendorf, whom Berninger identifies as "the only one with a rock 'n' roll lifestyle."

Mistaken For Strangers

As Berninger increasingly expresses more interest in boozing around and recording behind the scenes moments than actually helping out, Matt's temper rises, eventually stirring up the unspoken baggage that has caused Tom to resent Matt over the years. Cue the somber music and dramatic turning points: Tom turns to his parents for advice and confronts his personal shortcomings, while the movie turns into a form of therapy that viewers experience along with him.

Though its combination of witty man-child humor and sentimentalism remains watchable, "Mistaken For Strangers" ultimately struggles during its final third, when the director folds his project into the actual plot by documenting his struggle to finish the movie. Unable to determine his intentions with the project, Berninger actually shows himself at his computer struggling to edit the thing together, introducing an on-the-nose meta twist that distracts from the more substantial family issues at the root of the narrative. Yet he relishes the opportunity to break the fourth wall, ironically including critiquing the project for lacking a firm resolution in its closing act. "Do you have any kind of plan for this film?" his brother asks him at one point. In spite of the rampant comedic energy, Berninger never finds a satisfactory answer to that question.

If "Mistaken For Strangers" were a scripted comedy -- which it often resembles in spite of the documentary traditions it follows -- Berninger (a dead ringer for Zach Galifianakis) might arrive at an epiphany that would bring the story to a clean finish. To its credit, the movie never goes that far; its final, wordless coda implies the friction at the center of the plot far better than the overt exploration preceding it. However, Berninger generally plays it safe and keeps the proceedings slight, leaving the sense that much has been glossed over. Only the band's continuing popularity makes his journey stand out. Like its director-star, "Mistaken For Strangers" struggles admirably but can only go so far before letting the established talent win out.

Criticwire Grade: B

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Opening in New York this weekend as well as several VOD platforms, the film is sure to find support in ancillary markets due to the band's popularity. It may garner solid theatrical returns for similar reasons as it gradually plays around the country.


This article is related to: Reviews, Mistaken For Strangers, The National , Tom Berenger, Documentary, Music, Starz, Abramorama






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More