Matt Berninger, the lead singer of the indie rock band the National, is a very self-possessed individual. He is slim and handsome with steel blue gimlet eyes. When his band’s concerts begin, he strolls on stage with a glass of red wine in hand.
His brother, Tom, nine years his junior, is a jovial, slovenly mess, a frat boy who’s frat has passed him by. He lives with his parents and spends his time making no-budget horror films set to heavy metal music. He is clearly a sweetheart with not a mean bone in his body, but ambition is not his strong suit. For all intents and purposes, Tom Berninger is a loser. Except….
When Matt invites Tom to roadie for the band, Tom sees it as a chance to jumpstart his nascent, i.e. nonexistent, film career. So, he decides to make a documentary of the National’s European and U.S. tour. Which he takes very seriously. The roadie job? Not so much. He is not very good at it. He’s forgetful, drinks too much, and constantly bugs the crew with his ever-present camera.
What follows is a documentary, for sure. And there is some rock in it—the band members are dynamic performers. But what starts out as a fairly amusing portrayal of a slacker with astoundingly poor judgment becomes a sweet (and sour) portrayal of siblings who alternately annoy and help each other. It also becomes more of a universal statement on families of all sorts. Anyone who has been in a band knows they become as tight as a family, with all the love and dysfunction inherent in that.
Most questions that Tom pose is about his relationship with Matt. At first it is unconscious, but as the film takes shape (which we literally watch happen) it turns out Tom is really searching for an answer. He is looking through the lens to his sibling to fix and understand something in himself. It is tremendously touching.
Toward the end, the National are playing in a concert, and Matt walks through the crowd and out the door into the lobby while still singing. Matt is 10 steps behind him holding the microphone cord like a lifeline and follows him the entire way. Sure, it’s his job. But the image cements the theme of the film. Sometime family pushes, sometimes family pulls, but we’ll always hold on and make sure you get back safely.