Movie review: 'The Nowhere Inn' explores the paradox of celebrity, starring St. Vincent and Carrie Brownstein

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St. Vincent standing in green suit holding pointer.
St. Vincent in 'The Nowhere Inn.' (IFC)

Parts of St. Vincent's new movie, The Nowhere Inn, felt excruciatingly relatable to me. Not because I'm a rock star like Annie Clark, but because I'm a music journalist whose job is to tell rock stars' stories. That's the role assigned to Carrie Brownstein in this mockumentary; both she and her subject find it a frustrating task.

I'm not sure what viewers who aren't in the music industry will make of The Nowhere Inn, but its central drama is one that some of us live every day. If you're a musician, your job is to make music: recordings, live performances, videos. If you're a music journalist, your job is to tell musicians' stories. What if they're not that interesting?

Everyone has an interesting story, I believe, but the trick is to find that story and tell it when the artist is...well, doing their job of being an artist. The Nowhere Inn finds St. Vincent touring behind her 2017 album Masseduction, and the conceit of the film is that she's invited her best friend Carrie Brownstein along to make an "intimate" documentary about the tour. Of course, "intimate" doesn't mean Brownstein will be filming sex scenes between Annie Clark and her girlfriend (played by Dakota Johnson). Or, does it?

While The Nowhere Inn fits into the category of mockumentary, it's not always funny ha-ha. I did have a few good laughs, and I will confess that one of them was when Bobcat Goldthwait's name came up in the credits as an executive producer. (I'm sorry, I'm an '80s kid.) The film is as stylish as you'd expect from a St. Vincent production, with Portlandia vet Bill Benz behind the actual lens. Behind the fictional lens, Brownstein delivers an all-too-authentic performance as a woman whose dad is dying while her friendship is fraying.

St. Vincent is seen writing and, ultimately performing, the movie's title song throughout the film. When discussing subject matter for the song, she and Brownstein agree that making it about the ennui of life on the road isn't very relatable. Will ordinary fans relate to this movie, an increasingly fantastic voyage into the Russian doll of a rock star's mind? Ultimately, it might be a lot to ask for a viewer who's not already a St. Vincent fan. For those who are, of course, The Nowhere Inn is a delectable look into the very distinctive mind of Annie Clark, created in collaboration with a fellow super-smart star.

By the time the production lands in Texas for an outrageously caricatured depiction of St. Vincent's supposed family back home, the movie's resemblances to David Byrne's True Stories are striking. While that's a very different film thematically, it's a similarly wry document from a music star fascinated with the tension between truth and fiction. It's no surprise that Clark and Byrne proved such natural collaborators when they made Love This Giant (2012) together.

The Nowhere Inn might be destined for similar status as a cult classic; it's already garnering the same initial lukewarm reviews. While it might not be everyone's idea of popcorn material, The Nowhere Inn is bound to spur fascination as long as St. Vincent does; which is to say, indefinitely.

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