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"Mistaken for Strangers": Did You Know That Rock Stars Have Little Brothers? 

Wednesday, Mar 26 2014

It seems safe to assume Mistaken for Strangers is a leap forward from director Tom Berninger's previous cinematic efforts. "This one's about a barbarian with an identity crisis," he says early on while holding up an old VHS, "who also goes through a murderous rampage." A few years ago, when Tom got a job as a roadie for his brother Matt's indie rock band, he figured the experience could yield a good documentary. Certainly it helped that his brother's band is The National, which has become at least successful enough to play before thousands and to enjoy a private photo op with President Obama. And maybe it helped even more that Tom wasn't granted access to the photo op: That's just sort of how it goes when you're the doughier, scruffier, less accomplished kin to The National's frontman, which is what Mistaken for Strangers really is about. It's a self-portrait from the inside of a big brother's big shadow. Let's just say Tom didn't quite excel in the roadie job, which was thankless anyway, but he did get a movie out of it. And if Mistaken for Strangers lacks a murderous rampage, it does bring pretense-puncturing hilarity to the expansive sub-genre of rock documentaries, in which even the goofs have gotten too self-serious. Here, shambling sincerity seems like real refreshment, and it's definitely a compliment to say that when Tom admits he took footage of himself crying, and Matt, in response, can't keep from laughing, we want to do both.

About The Author

Jonathan Kiefer

SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.


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