‘The Nowhere Inn’ review: a St. Vincent rockumentary with a twist

Also starring the artist's best friend Carrie Brownstein, this knowing film asks who the real Annie Clark is - but do we actually get a clear answer?

A white stretch limo speeds through the desert. Annie Clark, resplendent in superstar sunglasses and a big beige trench coat, sits in the back gazing at the view. “So you’re a singer?” asks the chauffeur flatly, “… because I don’t know who you are.” What follows is a dryly comic exchange in which Clark explains that she actually performs as St. Vincent. But her driver – and the son who he quickly gets on the phone to corroborate her supposed fame – still doesn’t know who she is. They ask her to sing one of her songs to see if that rings any bells. One backseat rendition of her 2017 single ‘New York’ later and still nothing. “Don’t worry,” adds the driver in a somewhat sinister fashion. “We’ll find out who you are…”

A rockumentary with a whole load of differences, The Nowhere Inn asks who the real Annie Clark is and winds up without an answer, giving away next to nothing about the woman behind St. Vincent apart from the fact that she has a pretty damn dark sense of humour. Melding a deadpan mockumentary with moody live footage from the ‘Masseduction’ tour and a heavily stylised psychological thriller, Annie Clark plays herself, as does her best friend Carrie Brownstein, who Clark has hired to make a film about her.

At first excited about the prospect, a soon-harried Brownstein becomes frustrated with just how normal Clark appears to be. Instead of wild parties, all Annie wants to do is play Scrabble, snack on radishes and show off her yoga routine. As Carrie frustratedly tries to find a story for the documentary, it becomes clear that instead of being a rowdy rockstar Annie is, well, just a little bit boring.

To jazz up proceedings, Annie attempts to become more like her alter-ego, St. Vincent: the slick and uncompromising rockstar who she becomes every night and who struts about on-stage in day-glo PVC.

This opens the floodgates to an increasingly surreal look at the world of St. Vincent, including a wild country and western re-enactment of Clark’s two-stepping Texan roots and a cringey sex scene involving her and her girlfriend Dakota Johnson, who beams “I wasn’t even gay!” when an increasingly freaked-out Brownstein interviews her. As Clark becomes an icy pastiche of the aloof St. Vincent who is often portrayed in interviews, this wilfully weird turn of events throws Carrie into a world of confusion.

At worst, The Nowhere Inn is an hour-and-a-half-long in-joke in which Annie Clark seizes full control of her narrative, serving up a series of different versions of herself to baffle and confuse. But at its best, it’s funny and knowing – maybe a little too knowing – by asking questions about authenticity and how almost everything in the music industry, even if it looks like it isn’t, is contrived.

Details

  • Director: Bill Benz
  • Starring: Annie Clark, Carrie Brownstein, Dakota Johnson
  • Release date: October 29 as part of Doc’n Roll Festival
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