Mistaken for Strangers

Mistaken for Strangers - trailer
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Director: Tom Berninger
Cert: 15A
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Tom Berninger, Matt Berninger, Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner
Running Time: 1 hr 14 mins

The National, the indie-schmindie Brooklyn-based rockers at the heart of this splendid music doc, know how to bang together a chorus. But the primary refrain of Mistaken for Strangers is not from the song that shares its title with the film. The primary refrain is: "You kinda got to get your shit together a little bit".

The target for such sentiment is Tom Berninger, younger brother of National frontman Matt. Matt is typical of the hardworking, earnest, sleekly bearded hipsters who currently populate the alt.scene. Tom is Solange to his sibling's Beyoncé. Aa slightly overweight goofball metal-head who lives at homewith his parents. His greatest achievement to dateis a DIY movie wherein cavemen dob loody battle with Sith clones. "I don't want a girlfriend right now," Tom says tellingly. "I don't have the clothes."

When Matt throws his lovable kid brother a bone by taking him on tour as a roadie, Tom is disappointed to learn that his sibling does little on the road that might be confused with the antics of the Allman Brothers cira 1977. He wonders, as do we, why there isn’t more crazy stuff going on.

Tom keeps his camera rolling to create the film we’re watching, even though, as other band members point out, that’s not in his job description. Nor is disappearing off to listen to Rob Halford’s Christmas album. Nor is leaving cereal on the bathroom floor in the middle of the night for Matt to clean up. Nor is leaving wet swimming gear to dip dry on the tour bus.


"Matt was a lot easier to raise than you," Tom's mother tells him, apologetically. We're not too surprised when he doesn't get to meet Barack Obama with the rest of the band.

Still, there’s something disarming about the less famous Berninger brother. He is, to borrow his phrase, metal when all around are coffeehouse. As a documentarian, he asks unpretentious questions that no one else would, such as “Who can play faster?”

We loved every minute of Tom's company and his film, right down to Halford's O Holy Night over the closing credits. Sadly, it's not on Spotify (we did check). Boo.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic