The Song Is You: The Fantastic Mistaken for Strangers Opens Tribeca Film Festival, Reveals Ultimate Sibling Rivalry Story

Matt Berninger (left) and brother Tom (right) in Mistaken for Strangers.

Matt Berninger (left) and brother Tom (right) in Mistaken for Strangers.

We did not expect to love Mistaken for Strangers, the “self-mockumentary” that premiered last night at the opening of the Tribeca Film Festival. Directed by Tom Berninger, whose brother Matt is the lead singer of the band The National, the film explores the trials and tribulations of sibling rivalry after Tom is invited to go on tour as a roadie for his brother’s band. We were expecting a lot of fawning adulation over the indie group, who were slated to perform after the show at the High Line Ballroom.

The film managed to defy every preconception we had, however, and might just be the best documentary we’ve seen all year. Less about the band than the younger Berninger’s frustrations at living in the shadow of a much more beloved and successful older brother, it should be required viewing for every younger sibling or black sheep of the family.

Without giving anything away, however, the film’s viewpoint had one unfortunate side effect: we left the theater kind of hating The National front man for coming off so callous toward his brother’s plight. And we left the movie wondering: would this mean that the audience wouldn’t be psyched to see the band perform at the after-party? And since both brothers shared a writing credit for Strangers, how much stock should we put in the “reality” of the film?

Before the show, Tom Berninger  made an appearance onstage after an introduction by Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro. “It’s an incredible honor … I don’t know that it’s quite sunk in yet,” said the younger Berninger brother, after thanking Ms. Rosenthal, Mr. De Niro, Genna Terranova and Paula Weinstein for the opportunity. “This movie is a really small, little low-fi thing, but I couldn’t have done it without a lot of help.” The director proceeded to bring out the entire band onto the stage, along with the producers of the film–his brother and his brother’s wife (former New Yorker editor) Carin Besser, Craig Charland and EP Marshall Curry. Supervising editor Matthew Hamachek got his own mention as the man “who really straightened up my mess.”

So we can love the golden boy Matt for producing his brother’s production, and if The National took any hit in its fans’ devotion, it was impossible to detect at the after-party. The audience of usually reserved TFF attendees surged to the front as the band began to play, though Mr. Berninger (the elder) was obviously in damage-control mode: dedicating two songs to his brother and two others to members of the band’s touring crew who came off as particularly dickish in the film. The band’s touring manager, Brandon Reid, got a special shout-out, with Matt essentially saying that despite the movie’s portrayal, Mr. Reid was the nicest, best band manager anyone could ever ask for.

Guess you can’t believe everything you see in the pictures these days.