Lead singer of the The National, Matt Berninger, encourages his younger brother Tom to document their 2010 tour. Initially designed as offbeat webisodes, the would-be tour diary ends up becoming an affectionately chaotic tale of sibling rivalry.
Released to coincide with their most comprehensive Australasian tour yet, this fly-on-the-wall account of The National’s breakout global jaunt, in 2010, shows just enough of the band’s absorbing live performance work, while focusing on the two mismatched brothers behind the scenes. A curtain-raiser at Tribeca, it has already generated strong word of mouth, following extensive festival play, and seems destined for cult status in the months and years ahead.
"Seems destined for cult status."
From the outset, Matt Berninger, fortysomething front man of the brooding Brooklyn-ites, wants his younger sibling Tom, who’s nine years his junior, to join him on tour as a roadie, just as the band prepares to play their biggest shows yet across Europe. Brothers surround Matt on both sides – twins Bryce and Aaron Dressner play keyboard and guitars, Scott and Bryan Devendorf bass and drums –so it’s understandable that he often, by his own admission, feels isolated when on the road.
Yet Tom, an amateur schlock-horror filmmaker of immense slacker proportions, is the antithesis of his more urbane big brother. Tom still lives at home with his parents in Ohio. He gleefully guzzles beer from the band’s pre-show refreshments, bemoaning the lack of 'rock 'n’ roll" on tour. To make matters worse, he also spectacularly fails at the most basic of tasks assigned to him.
The Berninger boys, separated by age and circumstance (particularly following Matt’s eventual success with the band), still manage to display an unlikely, unshakable bond, despite their relationship often apparently left hanging by a thread. Matt and his fellow band members – who agree to Tom’s bizarre line of questioning, for some vague tour document he appears to be making – display immense patience and good humour, leaving a hapless road manager with the unenviable task of cracking the whip.
Inevitably, Tom is relieved of his duties, and is sent packing, back to Cincinnati, his low self-esteem in tatters. Yet despite the chaos he leaves behind – and his general devil-may-care cum train-wreck approach to life – his parents (who are both artists) appear to support him throughout (his mother telling him he’s the 'most talented" of the brood, and clearly meaning it). For reasons not explained, the elder sister is barely referenced and remains out of sight.
Perhaps the greatest surprise in all this – beyond the effective blend of the band’s own concert footage with Tom’s lo-fi handicam efforts – is that, six months on, Matt and his wife invite Tom to stay at their house and finish the film. Evidently, Matt’s wife, Carin Besser, a former fiction editor at The New Yorker, points Tom in the direction of the narrative arc (i.e. Tom’s disastrous journey and potential redemption from it) et voilÁ : a heartwarming tale is suddenly born.
The brothers have been in Australia, at different times, to showcase the film – Tom at last year’s Sydney Film Festival, Matt during the band’s February tour – and although sibling tensions clearly still simmer, the pair remain close. Matt and his wife are apparently now following Tom, as the horror aficionado tries to make a go of it as an actor in LA. The couple relocated there some time ago with their young daughter, and Tom still hasn’t moved out. It’s akin to a rather loveable sitcom, where no-one is left in the doghouse for too long, but patience is often stretched perilously thin. This account of proceedings is often painfully funny and, by the welcome surprise finale, rather moving as well. Whatever follows will, no doubt, prove just as intriguing.