Live: The National Premiere ‘Mistaken For Strangers’ in Los Angeles

By Philip Cosores

Mistaken for Strangers, the documentary on  Cincinnati-born, Brooklyn-based indie rock breakouts The National, premiered last night to 6,000 fans, friends, and family of the band at Los Angeles’ historic Shrine Auditorium. Though mostly played for laughs, the film — made by and starring frontman Matt Berninger’s brother Tom — works similarly to The National’s music when looked at as a whole, subversively poignant and emotional, but also practically useful in portraying an everyman and his rise to success.

The most affecting moment in the film might be lost on some, as there is no music swell or lighting trick to cue its importance like The National’s concert would later in the evening. It comes 2/3rds in when you meet the parents of Matt and Tom in their native Ohio, and during the mother’s interview,  she reveals the film’s true heart. She shows Tom his paintings from his childhood, noticeably more refined than his successful older brother Matt’s —though featuring a strange amount of severed legs— and without irony she says, “What did I always say about you?”

“You are my most talented son,” she finishes, with the scene fading to darkness and a location change.

Interview: The National’s Matt Berninger on Closeted Deadheads in Indie Rock

Up until that point, Tom wasn’t good at much of anything within film, with the obvious caveat being that you are watching a film he made. Until then it has been laugh-out-loud funny throughout and created with a remarkable amount of self-awareness of the band’s dour reputation and their personalities. Though Matt is a great frontman and a smart lyricist, you come to find that his mom is right, and the film quickly becomes about Matt’s belief in Tom being central to Tom fulfilling what was only potential at that point in his life.

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