The Nowhere Inn smartly softens its meta conceit with some winking humor, but doesn’t interrogate any of its ideas or rise above mere brand management.
Returning to the scene of the crime, Annie Clark (who performs as St. Vincent, important distinction here) has reteamed with Carrie Brownstein after previously collaborating on the ninth Sleater Kinney album The Center Won’t Hold in 2019. Clark produced that project for Brownstein and her Kinney bandmates, a collaboration that concluded with the band fracturing into a duo (Brownstein and co-vocalist/guitarist Corin Tucker), losing longtime drummer Janet Weiss in the process. Undoubtedly a sour turn for the celebrated reunion (which had commenced 4 years prior) to take, but the bond between Clark and Brownstein is seemingly stronger than ever as they’ve come back into each other’s professional orbit to write and star in a film together — The Nowhere Inn.
A continuation of the work they did together on television series Portlandia (on which St. Vincent guested 3 times), Brownstein and Clark have entrusted their screenplay to TV comedy director Bill Benz, who is at least pretty attuned to the pair’s faux-ambitious wavelength. Pretty standard meta-fiction silliness, The Nowhere Inn’s screenplay is something in between dubious Fassbinder homage and indie rock Curb Your Enthusiasm, with Brownstein and Clark playing (versions of) themselves (the latter is officially credited as St. Vincent here). Framed as footage from an unfinished documentary that went off the rails, though only very loosely maintaining this continuity, The Nowhere Inn covers Brownstein’s strained attempts to document St. Vincent’s Masseduction tour, her efforts challenged by Clark’s relatively meek, awkward off-stage personality. Ostensibly best friends, their relationship shifts toward antagonism when cast in the roles of documentarian and subject, and soon Brownstein begins aggressively encouraging Clark to lean deeper into the St. Vincent persona. Inevitably, the two begin to spiral and their personas sort of intermesh and blur, power dynamics flip, etc. There are also little bits throughout poking fun at the indignities of being St. Vincent (not all it’s cracked up to be) — limo drivers not believing you’re famous, art journalists using you to impress their girlfriends — which allows them to explore this more cerebral material without having to commit to taking it completely seriously. None of these comedic interludes are all that funny or fresh really, and while the leads have a strong rapport and are capable actors, neither are particularly great at zesting up these stale gags. Not particularly clever nor carrying substantial insight into the artist/subject interplay (complicated slightly by the subject also being an artist and confidant, but not significantly), The Nowhere Inn scans more as a rather indulgent PR maneuver, at once defensive and pandering, scolding the audience for putting her on a pedestal while recasting Clark as a humble music geek who we’ve allowed ourselves to project too much on to. The film isn’t totally unaware of the part the artist plays in perpetuating this cycle, but The Nowhere Inn doesn’t venture too deep in its interrogation of these ideas, prioritizing St. Vincent’s brand management above all else.