Tom Berninger, the younger brother of The National lead singer, Matt, is allowed to go on tour with the band as a roadie, and he films the experience on his handheld camera. Unfortunately, Tom is utterly incompetent as a roadie, and it turns out that modern-day touring in a successful indie band is a lot more corporate and business-like than one might expect. Cue an inevitable firing for Tom after one last monumental cock-up. Afterwards, we watch as Tom relocates first back home with his parents, and then to New York with his brother in an attempt to finish the film and create something of value from it.
Mistaken for Strangers isn’t really about The National. It’s really a documentary essay on the relationship between two brothers, one successful and one not, both of them evidently talented. It’s difficult to say whether Tom’s incompetency is staged—his fuck-ups are amusing but they do appear somewhat constructed in a sub-par Spinal Tap kind of way, and the presence of Matt Berninger’s wife as an editor in the end credits does suggest more involvement on his end than one might initially assume—but what isn’t staged is the truthfulness and humanity of that central relationship between two siblings. Thus a mediocre documentary is transformed into a surprisingly meaningful one, enjoyable even if you’re not a fan of The National like me.