The other night I went to see Mistaken for Strangers, a documentary on indie band The National. It’s also the name of a track off their epic 2007 album, Boxer. The premise is that lead singer Matt Berninger asks his brother Tom Berninger (aspiring film maker) to be a roadie on their upcoming tour. Tom accepts without hesitation and decides to take a video camera along with him. What starts as a documentary on the band turns into an in-depth look at a relationship between two completely different people, who happen to be brothers. It’s funny, it’s heartwarming, it’s intense, and most of all honest because it happened naturally.

I learned a lot about The National watching this film: Matt always wears a suit when performing; twin brothers/guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner are incredibly down to earth and laid back; bassist Scott Devendorf always rocks a pair of aviators and drummer Bryan Devendorf (Scott’s brother) is the party animal; while everyone else is “coffee house” as Tom puts it. They’re a family made up of family members of different families. You also see different sides of Matt: he gets angry, he laughs, he feels guilty, he tries so hard to make his personal relationship with his brother fit his relationship with his music, his band and his tour, but struggles. He becomes an approachable human, instead of a distant admiration.

Matt talks about when the band first started out years ago, they would play to empty venues and get really discouraged. So they used that fear, anxiety and frustration to fuel their music and all of a sudden people started listening. They made themselves vulnerable, and people saw that, related to it and ate it all up. That’s one of the things about The National: their lyrics are some of the best out there, as if time was spent on selecting every single word making sure it was the perfect fit. They get so zoned when they perform which makes their shows so unbelievable, evidenced by the abundance of live footage in the film.

As icing on the cake, since it was the premiere screening, it was followed by a Q&A with Tom (director), Matt (co-producer), Carin Besser (editor) and Marshall Curry (executive producer.) I watched in awe in the front row as they answered questions like they were chatting with a group of friends – no pretension, no ego, no nothing. They made fun of each other, cracked jokes, as if this was no big deal. Whereas to fans, it was quite the opposite. I managed to muster up the courage to raise my hand and Matt noticed my tired little arm reaching as high as it could and called on me. And there I had a brief but monumental exchange with one of my musical heroes.

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Matt hung back to sign autographs and take photos (see below) without the slightest bit of annoyance – it’s like he wanted to do it, to indulge all the fans. Any music fan can attest to the fact that their appreciation for a musician is in their skills, because we never get to actually interact with the musicians themselves. But when the rare opportunity does present itself, they go from being some fantastical character behind the music, to a real life inspiration standing in front of you. The best thing that can come out of it, is a new found respect for the musician because not only are they extremely talented, but they’re people just like everyone else. That’s The National.

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Whether you’re a fan of The National or not, it doesn’t matter: the film is more about siblings and relationships than it is about music. It’s about understanding that although everyone’s different, even those closest to you, everyone wants the same thing: to find their place. The best thing we can do is help those around us get there any way we know how. After all, if it weren’t for my very own Charlie Brown, I wouldn’t have attended the show, met Matt Berninger and fallen even more in love with The National. So thanks for that.

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