The Nowhere Inn, 2021.
Directed by Bill Benz.
Starring St. Vincent, Carrie Brownstein, Ezra Buzzington, Toko Yasuda, Dakota Johnson, Chris Aquilino, and Drew Connick.
St. Vincent sets out to make a documentary about her music, but when she hires a close friend to direct, notions of reality, identity, and authenticity grow increasingly distorted and bizarre.
Without sounding rude or dismissive, I will admit that before The Nowhere Inn, I had no idea who Annie Clark was or anything about the music of St. Vincent (beyond the brief logline for the movie, of course). It appears evident that Annie Clark (writing the script alongside seemingly real-life friend Carrie Brownstein, also serving as the mockumentary director within the film while Bill Benz helms the actual film) is aware that might also be the case for anyone brave enough to take a chance on some bizarre and abstract cinema here analyzing the divide between a celebrity stage persona and their everyday life.
As Annie is seated in the backseat of a limousine, the driver rolls down the window inquiring who she is as he has never heard of a singer-songwriter named St. Vincent. He rolls the window back up only to bring it back down again, this time with his son on the phone, who is also unfamiliar with both names. Finally, they have Annie start singing only to still not recognize anything. If nothing else, it’s a sign that The Nowhere Inn, while certainly artsy, doesn’t necessarily come with an ego or self-aggrandizing pretension. It’s even filled with concert footage for both story purposes and presumably to win over some new fans. With that said, the music won me over; the movie did not.
Inside the movie’s universe, Carrie is a floundering filmmaker working in television that’s eager to make a career change creating a documentary about her friend Annie. As expected, the musical performances captured for this documentary are exhilarating, containing high-energy, seductive expressions and wardrobes, and the all-important connection between artist and audience. However, when it comes to rolling cameras on Annie during her day-to-day life, it’s apparent that the stage persona couldn’t be any more different and exciting from the average day, which consists of playing some Nintendo Switch and generally being a quiet individual with not much interesting going on. Carrie also doesn’t want to make exploitative trash by having Andy or her bandmates talk about her incarcerated father or rough childhood.
The situation prompts Carrie to make some adjustments on the fly while posing questions about the process of documentary filmmaking. Yes, it’s a very meta feature (complete with talking-head interviews) and one that only gets weirder as Annie is encouraged to let some of St. Vincent slip into everyday life. As one probably already has figured out by now, such a thing instantly paves the way for more spontaneous and entertaining footage, but at the cost of things quickly turning toxic and hollow. Perhaps the most irreverent sequence sees Annie and her family dressed up as cowboys, singing songs and shooting guns. It’s also revealed that Annie is dating Hollywood star Dakota Johnson (also playing herself), pressuring Carrie to film the two sexually intimate without consulting an intimacy coordinator and disregarding her discomfort doing such a thing (by far the funniest segment in the movie).
The Nowhere Inn assuredly has its fair share of amusing moments and hilarious line delivery (Annie Clark shines there but not so much when the film demands more emotion and continuously transforms into an abstract mindfuck regarding the role audiences play and who is studying who within the documentary), yet also frequently feels repetitive as it drives home the same points over and over for the first two acts. Even if the final 20 minutes fail at tying together whatever artistic statement the story is going for, the rest could have benefited from having more of that head-scratching brain-teasing or more clever deconstruction of documentaries.
As is, The Nowhere Inn starts with an intriguing concept (there’s a sense that Annie Clark believes that a traditional documentary on herself wouldn’t necessarily be effective considering how she pokes fun at her mundane life) that goes nowhere of substance with its ideas.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com