‘The Nowhere Inn’: Film Review

Two rock stars, and two comedy styles, clash in Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) and Carrie Brownstein's mockumentary on fame and identity.

Bill Benz

Annie Clark, Carrie Brownstein, Dakota Johnson.

Running time: 91 MIN.

Bill Benz’s high-concept rock mockumentary opens with a white limo speeding through the desert. The driver (Ezra Buzzington) has never heard of his passenger, the cult sensation Annie Clark, better known by her stage name St. Vincent. “I’m not for everybody,” she shrugs. The driver is unsatisfied. “Don’t worry,” he glowers. “We’ll find out who you are.”

That threat hangs over Clark’s black-bobbed head for the rest of the film’s running time. Clark hires friend Carrie Brownstein, the Sleater-Kinney guitarist and “Portlandia” comedian (with whom Clark also wrote this script), to shoot a documentary of her Masseduction tour for “people to know who I really am.” The problem is Clark (at least, this fictionalized version of Clark) is a Scrabble-playing, radish-eating, people-pleasing dork. Fans love St. Vincent, a guitar-shredding Amazon in thigh-high neon boots with a voice that sounds piped in from a spaceship. St. Vincent commands attention. As for Clark, well, even her bandmates think she’s boring.

The Nowhere Inn” puts forth thorny questions about fame and identity, and the truism that becoming a celebrity can mean flaying off pieces of your skin to give to anyone who demands it, whether they’re a rude chauffeur, a journalist’s cousin who wants a selfie or a sobbing fan who burdens Clark with sad stories about how her music saved her life. Brownstein empathizes with Clark’s predicament. As the film starts, a network has rejected her TV pilot, and the career bump has her paranoid that she, too, doesn’t measure up to her reputation. She, too, needs this documentary to work – she needs a compelling story – and the two women’s’ aligned insecurities put them at cross-purposes. To get great material, Brownstein chips away at Clark’s self-confidence until she grows sensitive about being less interesting than her second self. “I can be St. Vincent all the time,” Clark promises, and she soon awakens her inner monster: a 24/7 diva determined to shock and awe.

Clark and Brownstein’s creative collaboration stretches back a decade to the St. Vincent music video “Laughing With a Mouth of Blood,” filmed at “Portlandia’s” fictional bookstore Women and Women First. They not only co-wrote “The Nowhere Inn’s” script but also penned its theme song, a source of drama within the film. Yet their performing styles don’t mesh. In keeping with “Portlandia’s” comedy of awkwardness, Brownstein stammers and ums and smiles big phony smiles. Her humor is in the pauses.

Clark operates on a higher frequency. Her energy is contained, not diffuse. She moves with the precision of an assassin, and though she’s fantastically charming, Clark also has the ability to flatten her features into cold, android perfection. With her, every gesture is as sharp as a shiv. No matter how much Brownstein and Clark clearly enjoy and respect each other’s talents, combining the two in the same scene is like pouring chia pudding into a latex dress. When Clark insists on filming in her home state of Texas, she dominates the screen shooting pistols in fringed spandex. Brownstein can only stand on the margins and passively murmur that maybe, well, hmmm, she should be a little more realistic.

Benz’s direction is more tuned into Clark’s wavelength. He and cinematographer Minka Farthing-Kohl favor crisp images, witty pans and the occasional dramatic zoom. Benz and Farthing-Kohl refract St. Vincent’s concert guitar solos into psychedelia, creating small music videos within the movie as she rips through songs like “Fear the Future” and “Year of the Tiger.” the latter with a fake family of singers and musicians she fobs off as her own. In “The Nowhere Inn’s” funniest sequences, Clark orders Brownstein to film intimate moments with her girlfriend Dakota Johnson, played with gusto by Dakota Johnson, who’s willing to slip into strappy lingerie and a blunt wig that turns her into a St. Vincent clone.

As a ballad about a rock star’s soul, “The Nowhere Inn” is a fun riff performed on flimsy strings. Clark, who journalists consistently note is a deeply private artist, has succeeded in exposing everything and nothing. She’s content to playact as the film’s calculating villain, confident that viewers will know that, too, is a ruse. The film can feel so clever it gives you a headache, even before it plays itself off with a blast of David Lynchian reverb. Yet one senses there’s much more film work ahead for the mutable Miss Clark when she’s ready to set aside both of her identities to play wholly fictional characters. After all, she says, “I know who I am. What does it matter if anyone else does?”

'The Nowhere Inn': Film Review

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 25, 2020. Running time: 91 MIN.


A Topic presentation of a Topic Studios, Ways & Means, Crazy Galore production. (Int'l sales: Endeavor Content, Paradigm, Los Angeles.) Producers: Annie Clark, Carrie Brownstein, Jett Steiger, Lana Kim. Co-producers: Josh Bachove, Danny Harris. Executive producers: Michael Bloom, Ryan Heller, Maria Zuckerman, Bobcat Goldthwait, Adam Pincus.

Crew: Director: Bill Benz. Screenwriters: Carrie Brownstein, Annie Clark. Camera (color): Minka Farthing-Kohl. Editor: Ali Greer. Music: St. Vincent.


Annie Clark, Carrie Brownstein, Dakota Johnson.

More Film

  • Heavy Security at Cannes Film Festival

    Coronavirus in Cannes? Festival Monitoring 'Carefully' as First Case Confirmed

    The Cannes Film Festival has addressed the spread of coronavirus in Europe, mere hours after news broke on Friday of Cannes’ first case. “The Festival de Cannes is monitoring carefully the developments and the latest guidelines provided by the local, national and international authorities regarding the coronavirus, and is in direct link with the Alpes-Maritimes’ [...]

  • No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No

    Think Cinema Lausanne's Vincent Perez on Why We Create Art

    In 2018, Swiss actor-director Vincent Perez teamed up with the Cinémathèque Suisse, the country’s premiere film archive, to launch a heritage film festival in the actor’s hometown of Lausanne. For its first edition, the event ran under the title r7al – the Rencontres 7e Art Lausanne – and was rebranded Think Cinema Lausanne the following [...]

  • 'Charlatan' Review: Agnieszka Holland Shows Faith

    'Charlatan': Film Review

    At several points in “Charlatan,” the camera looks glossily on as our protagonist holds small bottles of amber liquid to the light, academically scrutinizing their contents as they beam a light golden glow onto his features: an effect both ennobling and almost romantic. The man is Jan Mikolášek, a famous Czech herbalist and healer with [...]

  • Toho Cinemas at Tokyo Midtown Hibiya

    Japanese Cinemas To Refund Tickets in Virus Response

    In response to the coronavirus crisis, the Japanese film industry has begun to delay releases, close theaters and refund ticket purchases. The releases of the new “Doraemon” and “Jimaro” feature animations targeted at kids out of school for the spring break, have been delayed. The former was scheduled to open March 6, the latter on [...]

  • Blood on Her Name

    Film Review: ‘Blood on Her Name’

    In the opening moments of “Blood on Her Name,” an arrestingly twisty and suspenseful Southern noir thriller in the tradition of “One False Move,” we’re introduced to Leigh, the working-class protagonist played by Bethany Anne Lind, with a jarring close-up that is at once explicit and ambiguous. Her face is battered, her breathing is labored, [...]

  • Liev Schreiber Broadway

    Film News Roundup: Liev Schreiber Joins Will Smith's Tennis Drama 'King Richard'

    In today’s film news roundup, Liev Schreiber and retired pro footballer Vernon Davis score roles, Jason Blum will speak at his alma mater, Irish drama “Rialto” finds a U.S. distributor and “1917” hits a box office milestone. CASTINGS Liev Schreiber will portray tennis coach Paul Cohen in Warner Bros.’ “King Richard” opposite Will Smith. Reinaldo [...]

  • AMC theater

    AMC Entertainment Reports Mixed Fourth-Quarter Results

    AMC Entertainment has reported mixed fourth-quarter results, which saw revenues rise 2.4% to $1.45 billion, despite a 4.4% drop in U.S. attendance to 62.3 million. The exhibitor, owned by Dalian Wanda Group, announced a fourth-quarter loss of $13.5 million, compared to a year-earlier profit of $170.6 million, due to $84.3 million of expense related to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content