The first thing to understand about “Mistaken for Strangers” is that it’s not really a documentary about The National.
Sure, it follows the band on tour and it’s directed by Tom Berninger, younger brother of lead singer Matt, but if you’re looking for some good tunes or to learn more about The National’s creative process you’d have better luck reading an interview or seeking out National concert footage on YouTube.
That’s not to discount the value of this curio, which is a brief, semi-comic riff on the younger Berninger’s feelings of insecurity and inadequacy when his own, admittedly unsuccessful life is compared with that of his famous brother.
The picture is simply unlike any other documentary centered on a popular band; the group’s embrace of the project demonstrates a sense of humor on their end that’s a welcome change in an era filled with serious acts taking themselves way too seriously.
It’s unpolished and self-reflexive, serving as a video diary paralleling the filmmaker’s attempts to get his act together in his everyday life with a quest to shoot and finish the film during and after a stint as a roadie on tour with his brother.
Tom Berninger isn’t much of an interviewer; the band members beyond Matt get cursory time on camera and most of it is spent on goofy, nonsensical questions.
Again, this isn’t really a movie about The National.
The dynamic between the shaggy-haired metalhead Tom and subdued, private Matt sustains the movie as it searches for a form and a purpose. The movie finds its center in that portrait of a brotherly bond tested and strengthened on the road.