St. Vincent has been described as the next David Bowie. Personally, I think that sells her a little short. Annie Clark, the woman behind the moniker, is a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and with the release of 2017’s horror anthology XX a film director. Each and every project of hers is distinct from the last; never ever are they boring. In fact, her recent record Daddy’s Home ranks among my favorite of the year. Today’s film we’re discussing, The Nowhere Inn, however, returns to the era surrounding a popular work of hers: 2017’s LP Masseduction.
Ostensibly, The Nowhere Inn initially presents itself as a documentary chronicling St. Vincent’s Masseduction tour. Written by Clark as well as Carrie Brownstein, directed by Bill Benz, and starring both Clark and Brownstein as fictionalized versions of themselves, it’s very much a lampoon of the rock doc rather than the real deal. Brownstein, wonderful as always, attempts to make a documentary about the tour. However, where the St. Vincent onstage is all red leather, mean-mugging, frenetic glam rock, Clark behind the scenes is more prone to quietly playing her Nintendo Switch when she catches a break.
The clear theme at the center of The Nowhere Inn is image vs. authenticity. An engaging theme to base a mockumentary like around, for sure. For the most part, Clark, Brownstein, and Benz do good work with this. Clark’s performance is a wonder to behold. Onstage, in exhilarating concert sequences interspersed throughout the film, she’s nothing less than a rock goddess. Offstage, she’s simply a person, and that’s not who Brownstein wants. So much of the film tracks Clark molding herself to fit the image of who she should be offstage. Her slow steps from awkwardly smoking a cigarette before a show to mimic “rock stars in the movies” to becoming an alienating force of music unlock a previously unseen acting talent in Clark that reminds of a seasoned veteran.
Brownstein’s character undergoes a change as well. As stated earlier, Brownstein is always great in whatever media she’s in, though that doesn’t make her own transition from hungry artist to someone who just wants their friend back any less entertaining. Clarke and Brownstein are dynamite together, their chemistry leading to moments both heartbreaking and funny. In terms of the latter, there’s a particularly hilarious scene where Brownstein has to film a sex tape between Clark and girlfriend Dakota Johnson (playing a fictionalized version of herself) that plays for gleeful cringe comedy.
Furthermore, Brownstein and Clark’s relationship in the film makes for a lightning rod for discussions of the relationship between artist and audience. Music documentaries are oversaturated with movies about big, loud personalities. The rise, inevitable over-the-top drug use, the fall, if they’re lucky a redemption? Clark in real life remains somewhat of a private person, letting the music speak for itself. Whether this movie represents any kind of truth behind Clark doesn’t really matter, as the punch of her and Brownstein’s script poking fun at the audience’s “desire to know” the artist simply works.
Well, mostly. There’s a sense that The Nowhere Inn’s desire to do something wild the more it goes on supersedes its characters. Bill Benz does a competent job taking the film into more Lynchian territory – yes, this film actually fits that bill – yet doesn’t really justify going in that direction. Subjectively, it all just went too surreal, too meta for me. It might work better for others, and it is entertaining; I just think a more straightforward narrative might’ve served its purpose better. Then again, who am I to argue with St. Vincent?
For fans, Clark and Brownstein deliver a creative brainchild worthy of a special place in the St. Vincent oeuvre. Potentially, the two have a voice that could break out of their niche audience. Worst case scenario, it’ll give newcomers incentive to listen to the excellent Masseduction. Although I couldn’t get into some of the bigger leaps it made towards the end, that’s hardly the whole story. There’s a clear storytelling ability on display here that is more than simply competent. I have a massive gut feeling that I’ll be seduced by whatever film project Brownstein and Clark take on next. –James Preston Poole
The Nowhere Inn is now available to rent and purchase on Digital HD.