Tribeca Breakdown: "Mistaken For Strangers"


In 2010, the rock band The National released their fifth album, High Violet, which marked their ten-year transition from quietly celebrated critical darlings to international rock stars.

As the band prepares to dive into the international spotlight, The National’s front man Matt Berninger invites his brother Tom to join the band on tour. He explains: “I left for college when he was nine years old, and we hadn’t spent much more than holidays together since then. Now he was 30, and he was back living with our parents. I thought he was in a little bit of a rut.”

More interested in heavy metal and horror films, Tom stands as an interesting addition to the hipster-filled indie rock scene. MISTAKEN FOR STRANGERS tells the story of one brother struggling to understand his place in the world from within the shadow of an older brother’s new found stardom.

Tom Berninger sets out to make a documentary about The National, but it isn’t long until he himself becomes the focus of the film. Heartwarming and raw, Tom plays the part of an irreverent young brother perfectly. His questions are untailored and unexpected, while still maintaining a heartwarming naivety. (“What drugs, and how many, have you done?” “Do you carry your wallets with you on stage?”)

Parts of the film draw laughs from deep in the heart, contrasted with moments of such raw emotion that allow tears flow from the very same place. Tom Berninger seems like he was born to play the part of ‘Tommy Boy’, constantly meaning the best but always falling just a little bit short.

Matt wants so badly for his brother to be happy, hoping that this tour will inspire him. Tom wants so badly to impress his big brother, yet the two appear in constant struggle to make that happen. The brotherly relationship between Tom and Matt underscores MISTAKEN FOR STRANGERS, quickly becoming one of the most captivating elements of the documentary.

Eventually, Tom heads home to continue his quest for understanding through an intimate series of interviews with his parents. His quest, and the focus of the film, becomes to understand just what it means to get older, harness creativity, and navigate the love and frustration of family.