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While Mistaken for Strangers is technically a documentary about indie-rock luminaries The National, its music is largely beside the point. The band—partly composed of two sets of siblings, the Dessner and Devendorf brothers—takes a backseat to the relationship between another pair of siblings: The National’s moody, debonair lead singer Matt Berninger and his earnest, schlubby younger brother Tom, who directed this film. The two are a study in contrasts: Matt exudes urbane cool in a smart black suit; Tom prefers splashing about in a hotel pool with a T-shirt on. Moonlighting as a roadie, Tom never gets it right: He drinks too much, misplaces the guest list, and eschews bus curfew. As a filmmaker, his boneheaded interview questions resemble those of a high-school newspaper.
And yet, Tom—an avowed metalhead who lives with his parents and bemoans the lack of debauchery backstage—humanizes the often-stern proceedings of a group that takes itself very seriously (cue footage of the band’s viola player). His struggle to succeed is at the heart of the film, one that transcends the well-worn rock-doc template to vividly illustrate the bruising affection we have for our siblings. If we hate it when our friends become successful, Mistaken for Strangers wonderfully captures the competing impulses of pride and envy when success hits even closer to home.