SEPTEMBER 17TH, 2021
MOVIE: THE NOWHERE INN
STARRING: ST. VINCENT, CARRIE BROWNSTEIN, DAKOTA JOHNSON
DIRECTED BY: BILL BENZ
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
If The Nowhere Inn achieves anything, it has me interested in the music of St. Vincent. To her friends she is Annie Clark and one of her best friends happens to be Portlandia’s Carrie Brownstein. But let me backup and say that this isn’t a music biopic or exactly a full narrative feature. It feels more like an exercise in the kind of insight we get on a musician through the lens of cinema and merging the stylings of director Bill Benz in the process. The Nowhere Inn has just enough interesting things to say, about celebrity, about control of a narrative, and also trying to make a movie in the process. It’s a bit of David Lynch meets David Byrne’s American Utopia. We find out who St. Vincent is in a meta and musical exercise at The Nowhere Inn, but it also amounts to being unfocused as well. It may just be entirely St. Vincent.
The first scene involves Annie being picked up at the airport by a limo driver. As they’re headed to the next destination, the driver asks if he knows her from something, seen her somewhere? She responds about her music and he asks her to sing a hit and he replies, “nope, never heard of you.” The driver eventually pulls over and for some reason, Annie has been left on the side of the road, looking for what happened to the driver. It’s after this where we pick up with Brownstein playing herself, tasked with directing a documentary about the fascinating life of St. Vincent. The problem, however, is that Clark is laid back, a friendly person, bonding with her band backstage, and failing to create a documentary that “says something”. This makes it hard for Carrie to be creative, but when she voices this, it turns Annie into an egomaniac, trying to manufacture the things she says, fighting with Carrie on the direction of the film, sending the story down bizarre paths of the meta and expressions of art.
I wouldn’t say that The Nowhere Inn is a bad film by any stretch, especially because in the grand scheme of music docs, and stories about artists director Bill Benz is genuinely trying to do something different. It’s what I like to call a spaghetti splatter film. You grab a handful of noodles out of a pot and throw it at the wall and some will stick and some will fall to the ground. Half of The Nowhere Inn is on the wall. Co-written by Clark and Brownstein together, there’s a funny air to the tone at first, challenging what fans should expect from their rock stars. Funny enough, there’s possibly not enough live performance work from St. Vincent, who has magnetic stage presence, but instead Benz and company seem focused on making a rock doc in the universe of Lost Highway, complete with odd characters entering the story at the behest of Clark to liven up the narrative. Eventually the relationship between Brownstein and St. Vincent deteriorates, as the rock star becomes a diva in her own way, engaging in an often funny, but lost on me relationship with Dakota Johnson, and as St. Vincent tries harder, so does the tone of The Nowhere Inn’s narrative.
The positives that exist in the exercise in itself. 2021 has not been lacking in music documentaries- ranging from the amazing- Summer of Soul, the fly-on-the-wall look with the Billie Eilish doc, the eye-opening in J Balvin’s Boy From Medellin, and the downright terrible Mary J. Blige doc. The Nowhere Inn is attempting to subvert all of those films, going in a hybrid route, where early on we see a few minutes of live performances, behind the scenes discussions, and then taking a hard left into the narrative structure. Although it may not all work, I certainly respect The Nowhere Inn more than most movies for the effort, no matter how indifferent I feel.
Maybe the goal is to just see a true artistic side of St. Vincent, who is not just going to show us the safe side, overproducing and making sure her image is clean in the end. She wants to be the hero, the villain, the artist, the diva, the best friend, and a vengeful bitch. Carrie Brownstein is often left holding the camera and seeking for more purpose in the story, but maybe in the end that is the purpose. Artists make art, whether a musician, a filmmaker, a comedian, or an inspiration. It’s all the same here at The Nowhere Inn.
THE NOWHERE INN IS PLAYING AT SELECT THEATERS THIS FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 17TH. IT’S ALSO PLAYING AT THE MUSIC BOX THEATRE.
2 ½ STARS
WRITTEN BY: Leo Brady