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THE NOWHERE INN (2021) review

September 18, 2021


written by: Annie Clark and Carrie Brownstein
produced by: Joshua Bachove, Danny Harris, Carrie Brownstein, Annie Clark, Lana Kim & Jett Steiger
directed by: Bill Benz
rated: not rated
runtime: 91 min.
U.S. release date: September 17, 2021 (Music Box Theatre, digital & on-demand)


“The Nowhere Inn” premiered at the Midnight Section back in 2020 at Sundance. That usually indicates a hard R-rating, a horror flick, or a film hopeful to make it as a cult classic. “The Nowhere Inn” is none of those things, but for most of its runtime, it’s a visually compelling experience. The mockumentary directed by Bill Bentz is a look at the world of rock singer/songwriter St. Vincent, who is actually Annie Clark from Texas, or at least how the artist wants to be presented. Just as the she has gone out of her way in real life to provide access to who she is when not in front of a live audience or a camera, the enigmatic attempt here is to keep viewers guessing, while making a commentary on the relationship between performer and fan.

While there is concert footage of St. Vincent performing live here and some backstage footage with her band, this is not a concert film. Likewise, although the film revolves around St. Vincent, the goal here isn’t to show who she truly is, but a variety of personas, far from atypical biopics thankfully.

As she sets out on a new tour, St. Vincent decides to record the experience for a documentary. To helm the endeavor, she hires her longtime friend Carrie Brownstein to follow her and capture what happens, offering her trust to someone who desires to offer viewers a truth of who Annie Clark is and how and why she transforms into a performer. Yet while Carrie sets out to find authenticity in Annie’s life, she begins to realize that what she’s recording is kind of boring. When Annie picks up on that, she flips on the performer switch out of spite and maintains a rather one-note performer side that becomes a challenge for Carrie to do anything with. This makes it difficult for the director to commit to her goal, while Carrie also contends with news of her father’s cancer treatment, someone who is excited and supportive about the documentary she is shooting. But will she be able to finish it and what will the end result be?



While the “The Nowhere Inn” is treated very much like a documentary, it’s crafted and structured with a screenplay written by Brownstein and Clark, using a very self-referential approach. It’s unclear how close the two friends are or how far back their friendship goes, but it’s obvious they’re more than acquaintances. Since Benz is more interested in the dynamic between Brownstein, Clark, and St. Vincent, it would’ve been helpful to touch on where their friendship is at and who who Brownstein is (many viewers may not know she’s a musician in her own right, as a founding member of the rock trio, Sleater-Kinner, as well as an actor with a gift for comic timing, in shows like “Portlandia” with Fred Armisen) and also where Clark conjured the St. Vincent persona from.

When Clark decides to remain full-on St. Vincent in “The Nowhere Inn”, it appears to be in response to how she sees others perceive her or what they expect out of her. That’s interesting initially, but it feels like that goes on far too long here, at the expense of her friendship with Brownstein. Sure, this all seems like an act and it’s hard to determine truth from fiction, but it all seems to be at the expense of Brownstein, who just wants to make an exciting and revealing documentary on her friend. So, after a while, it’s a little frustrating to see one friend deliberately create hardships and roadblocks for another friend, just because she refuses to be vulnerable and communicate what’s going on internally. Again, this could all be an act (for both of them), but this is what I gleaned from the experience, and I think there’s a missed opportunity to see two female artists supporting each other…but, maybe that would be boring too.

Initially, it seems like the “The Nowhere Inn” would be delving into the psychological differences between Annie Clark and St. Vincent, but it never goes that deep. It’s established that Clark is chill and nerdy when not on stage, content with playing Scrabble, whereas, St. Vincent seems aloof and kind of icy, unconcerned with anyone else’s thoughts or feelings, specifically Brownstein’s). It would’ve helped to see a struggle between Annie Clark and St. Vincent, where one woman has to determine when and why to be “on” and at what cost, but instead St. Vincent kind of takes over, leaving Brownstein to try and figure out what direction to take.



There are some ironic and funny scenes revolve around how St. Vincent is recognized by the public and considered by her fans. One of the opening scenes early on is comical, with Clark’s limo driver unsure how big of a star he’s driving if he (or his supposedly music geek son, who he calls on the phone) isn’t familiar with her or her music. There’s also a funny backstage scene in which Brownstein hand-picks someone from the fan line to have a “meet and greet” with St. Vincent. The fan gets overwhelmed and emotional, yet so does St. Vincent, which is something Brownstein didn’t anticipate. Still, during that scene, it’s hard to determine what is real and thereofore get fully invested in it, since we’re not sure if this is emotional reaction is all a part of a performance from her persona.

There are also a couple scenes that feel entirely too forced and just don’t work. One of them is designed to show St. Vincent reconnecting to her Texas roots, donning cowgirl garb and talking with a Southern accent and singing with Texan extras who supposedly know her. Again, it’s not clear if they actually do know her and essentially doesn’t matter. There’s also a scene in a bedroom, where St. Vincent and Dakota Johnson (playing herself and St. Vincent’s girlfriend) are in black lingerie, asking Brownstein to record them having sex. Both of these scenes play for laughs or awkwardness, and once again at the expense of Brownstein and neither really turn out to be outright funny.

“The Nowhere Inn” may be a frustrating watch whether you’re a loyal fan or totally unfamiliar with St. Vincent, since it tends to shift throughout in terms of what it wants to be. If you’re a fan of St. Vincent aka Annie Clark and interested in checking out “The Nowhere Inn” to find out more about her, that’s not going to happen. For loyal completists of the artist’s work – and for that matter the work of Carrie Brownstein as well – this is something you’ll have to check out…what you’ll get out of this nebulous journey is up to you and that’s probably how the artists want it.






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