In the opening scene of 'The Nowhere Inn,' singer-songwriter St Vincent (aka Annie Clark, 'XX') sits in a limousine, decked out in sunglasses and a leather jacket, as she is chauffeured through a desolate desert. It would be the epitome of cool if not for her driver who, even after asking to hear her sing, still has no idea who she even is. We soon realise this is a microcosm for how Clark perceives her fame; small moments of rockstar glamour surrounded by... well, an existence far more ordinary. Or so we are lead to believe. Marketing itself as a mockumentary-comedy-thriller, 'The Nowhere Inn' certainly has a lot to say about fame and filmmaking, juggling all of these ideas with a commendable - though not always accessible - level of success.
Playing a fictionalised version of herself (one hopes), Clark has enlisted long-time friend Carrie Brownstein ('The Oath') to document her life while Clark tours her critically acclaimed album 'Masseduction.' There's just one problem: her on-stage alter ego is much more thrilling than Annie herself, who would much rather play video games in her tour bus than party like the rock star her on-stage persona would lead one to believe she is. Additionally, Carrie isn't exactly feeling quite cut out for the job, finding herself Googling what makes a brilliant documentary ('The Nowhere Inn' is actually directed by Bill Benz, TV's 'Portlandia', in one of the few instances where the film departs from its meta-reality). Both of these anxieties leave the project dead in the water, and the women find themselves turning to Annie's enigmatic alter ego to make the documentary exciting once more.
Much like the excellent 'Mistaken For Strangers,' in which the dynamic of indie band The National is documented and dissected in unprecedented fashion, the key to 'The Nowhere Inn's' appeal and charm is seeing Clark push the limits of what a music film/documentary can do, or what it can be. At first, Carrie is on board with Clark manufacturing facets of her life for the take of the documentary, but after increasingly zany exploits - including a manufactured relationship with Dakota Johnson ('The Lost Daughter') - it becomes unclear to Carrie where St. Vincent ends and Clark begins. The entire affair is pierced with thriller elements - including an eerie score by Clark herself - and while it does get overly ambitious (especially in the third act), 'The Nowhere Inn' makes it clear that this is exactly the point: a never-ending circle of contrivance with purpose and for effect. As a result, it's hard to find where its ideas are meant to end, even as Clark and Brownstein fully and commendably commit to the bit. Their chemistry is the lifeblood of the film, going beyond the typical buddy comedy tropes to aim at something bigger than itself.
Clark and Brownstein fully and commendably commit to the bit. Their chemistry is the lifeblood of the film, going beyond the typical buddy comedy tropes to aim at something bigger than itself.
As we become increasingly used to sharing every aspect of our lives with others online, it becomes incredibly hard for artists to keep parts of their life private, so it makes sense that a deep dive into their personal life, such as a biopic or an autobiography, actually ends up remaining shallow when they already lay bare so much of themselves through their art. Annie Clark cleverly finds a way to have her cake and eat it too in 'The Nowhere Inn'. While the meta loop-de-loops do get a bit tangled, it's a funny and intriguing film that asks if the perceptions the famous have of themselves are just as toxic as the ones placed on them by the public.