Music documentaries are tough to get right, as they can too often be an opportunity simply to reminisce about or simply just lavish praise on a band through a series of trite interviews that don’t tell anyone anything really other than give an illustration of the sycophantic nature of some of these works. A music documentary works best when there’s a twist on the set genre, as in ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ or even the mockumentary ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, and first-time director Tom Berninger does a great job of giving it that personal, non-corporate feel that takes you in to the world of the band at a particular moment, rather than shoving you in to a sphere of apathy where every line about the bassist’s daring scarf just serves to induce vomiting.
It does help that Tom Berninger is the younger brother of Cincinnati Indie band The National’s Matt, and it’s a tidbit that aids it greatly in giving it a more real, human feel than there otherwise could have been. As a big fan of The National, it also serves to provide an insight in to the mechanics of going on a large tour and the things that band and crew members get up to in order to fill the long hours between having to do anything, but that is not its focus as Tom ably demonstrates various times with his quirky questions and deliberate facetiousness. Unlike many other music documentaries, that is largely on brotherly dynamics and the interplay between the determined achiever Matt and the laid back slacker Tom, whose different approaches leads to a few clashes and mean that Tom’s whole position on the crew comes in to question.
Heartfelt, genuine and emotional, ‘Mistaken for Strangers’ is a delicate character study masquerading as an offbeat music doc that doesn’t overstay its welcome and ensures that one laughs and laments along with Tom, and are touched by the family dynamic that shifts as they begin to realise that Tom hasn’t just been fooling around, he is actually making a film that will stand up on its own two feet. It’s a unique film that probably wouldn’t work without the extra chemistry provided by the brotherly dynamic, but it’s sure to please both fans of the band and fans of music documentaries alike.