Tom Berninger turned his failure as a roadie into a successful movie. Berninger went on tour with The National in 2010 and partied too much, forgot to take care of the pass list, and missed the bus. He finally got fired in the middle of the tour after the band, led by his brother, lead singer Matt Berninger, decided enough was enough.
One thing Tom Berninger did do right was bring a movie camera. A 30-year-old who was still living at home when his brother offered to take him on the road, Tom Berninger is a film school graduate who knows which end of the camera to look into and was smart enough to point it at himself and make his bumbling through the rock world and his sibling rivalry with his big brother the focus, not what was happening onstage.
“Mistaken for Strangers” is not another concert movie, and that’s to its credit. Instead it’s a funny, sweet and unexpectedly moving look at what happens when one sibling makes it while another stays home. The “Spinal Tap” persona that Berninger presents is exaggerated but grounded in reality. Tom Berninger is a lover of heavy metal and horror movies; Matt, nine years older, was pre-med in college before becoming a successful art director and then the lead singer of an indie band that just appeared on “Saturday Night Live.”
The National’s music is heard mostly in the background on “Mistaken for Strangers.” Included instead are Tom Berninger’s hilarious interviews with the band: he asks his brother how famous he thinks he is (Matt Berninger holds his fingers a couple of inches apart). He asks where the band will be “in, like, 50 years.” He asks whether they take their wallets and ID onstage (yes). At one point, he tells guitarist Aaron Desser “Can you look up? Look away. Look intense into the camera. Look away. OK now act like you just got a really good idea.”
And he films himself, drinking, singing along to Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford’s Christmas album, making mistakes, getting fired, moving back into his brother’s house, and trying to make sense of what happened and make a movie out of it. He talks to his parents, his brother, the guys in the band, and starts to find a place for himself in the world.