Few things make me more uncomfortable than naked ambition. People that are competent and ambitious often seem like they should be feared; people that are incompetent and ambitious seem like they should be pitied. Either way, they touch a raw nerve in me, as they make me feel self conscious about how people view me. I just don’t want to be that guy who pushes himself or his crap on people who don’t want it, you know?
Therefore, Mistaken for Strangers is not the right movie for me, even though it is a rockumentary about The National, who have basically been my favorite band for about five years. This movie made me super uncomfortable because Tom Berninger – the director of the movie, as well as the brother of the National’s lead singer Matt Berninger – is clearly unhappy with where is in life because he’s in the shadow of his brother, who is pretty successful by most measures of success. Tom starts out making a documentary about the band and then hijacks it to make it a movie about him, Trojan Horsing his way into fame.
The mixture of ambition and failure that Tom exhibits has it’s charms - the footage of him being ridiculous has a certain self depreciating quality –but it can’t quite cover up the aimlessness of his life, which I found to be far sadder than the funny parts were funny. (In large part because I know that aimlessness, and it’s a lot sadder than it is funny in my own life.) Plus, the bait and switch is kind of a pain in the ass, because I am not as excited for a movie about Tom Berninger, the guy I just heard of, as I am about the band I’ve liked for years.
Other people might not enjoy this film more than I did. People who really liked American Movie would probably enjoy this. People that like rockumentaries but are tired of the clichés of the genre might like this. People that don’t really worry about whether they are laughing with or at the subject of the movie might like this. But I sat there with a nervous feeling in my stomach for much of this movie and didn’t leave with a strong wind in my sails, so I can’t claim to have enjoyed it.
Winner: the Cat