Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Tom Berninger.
Released in cinemas to coincide with The Nation’s Australian tour Mistaken For Strangers is a flawed documentary about the band.
I didn’t know much about idie US rock band The Nation before I went to see this film, and I emerged from the screening not knowing a hell of a lot more. Mistaken For Strangers takes its title from the band’s 2007 single. But this is not your typical concert documentary, and it explores the world of rock and roll from an outsider’s perspective. This is an anarchic, chaotic, unfocused, unstructured, meandering and self-indulgent mess that tells us more about the shortcomings of the filmmaker than it does about the band.
By 2010 the Nation had released its fifth album and was starting to enjoy some commercial and critical success, and was on the cusp of a breakthrough to the mainstream. When the band embarked on an extended American and European tour in 2010, lead singer Matt Berninger asked his younger brother Tom to accompany them. While he was supposed to be part of the road crew and general gofer, Tom, himself a budding filmmaker with two microbudget gory straight to video horror films under his belt, decided that he would try to document the band on tour. But what emerges is a portrait of his own inadequacies, lack of self confidence and uncertainty as he struggles to pull the film together and whip it into shape.
The film is also an exploration of sibling rivalry, and looks at the awkward relationship between the two brothers who are dissimilar in personality. It is often pointed how Tom, although well meaning, was an incompetent screw up who could never quite follow in Matt’s footsteps, and how he had problems committing to anything and could never finish anything he ever started. There is a candid, fly-on-the-wall like rawness and endearing honesty to the film and some of the personal revelations resonate strongly.
When Tom is unceremoniously fired from the gig and sent packing back to his home in Cincinnati, it seems like the end of his folly into filmmaking. But it is Matt’s wife Carin Besser, herself a former editor with the New Yorker magazine, who helps Tom pick up the pieces of his project. She gives him the inspiration and encouragement to find the narrative arc and complete the film. The final part of the film sees Tom struggling through the editing process as he tries to pull all the disparate footage together into a cohesive structure.
But for fans of the band there is disappointingly little actual concert footage. What could have been something of a Spinal Tap like satire of the music business instead becomes an undisciplined mess. One for the fans only, although even they may be disappointed in the end result!