This documentary about the Brooklyn rock band The National centers on lead singer Matt Berninger's fuck-up brother Tom, who toured with the group as a roadie and fumbled a documentary out of the experience. Given that the band is one of the best and most exciting out there, this is akin to a profile on the Yankee's water boy, or close-ups of the Mona Lisa's frame. There's surprisingly little concert footage, and revelations about the group's dynamics or creative process are few and far between. (The interview questions essentially satirize the format: Do you get sleepy on stage? Where do you see the band in 50 years?)
Strangers sneaks in some minor insights into how sibling rivalries are shifted when one achieves massive critical and commercial success, but too much time is spent on Spinal Tap-esque shenanigans that justify Matt's waning patience, fun though it is to watch his temper blow up ("Are you telling me Werner Herzog has been waiting outside for 45 minutes because you lost the guest list?"). It gets credit for defying profile-doc conventions, but there's a sense that Tom is grandstanding rather than being captured as he actually is (many scenes of him screwing up are shot by a third party, and as he had no crew beyond himself this raises the question of whether such incidents were planned), which makes his act-three conversion less than authentic. Mistaken For Strangers has a great premise for a Jack Black comedy, but National fans are still without a Stop Making Sense or Some Kind of Monster to call their own.
The Tribeca opening-night selection will screen again on Friday and Saturday.