Review: The strange disappointment that was “The Nowhere Inn”

Review: The bizarre film "The Nowhere Inn"

The "metafictional" account of St. Vincent's musical career starring the musician and friend Carrie Brownstein fell flat in its delivery.
Published: September 17, 2021

The Nowhere Inn was so close to hitting the mark but fell short in almost every category. While the premise was promising it was the execution that made the film falter.

Directed by Bill Benz, The Nowhere Inn explores the life of the musician Annie Clark, better known as her stage name St. Vincent, and her friend, writer and director, Carrie Brownstein. However, it is not a documentary, it is a narrative film where St. Vincent and Brownstein play fictionalized versions of themselves. The audience follows these two as they set out to make a documentary about St. Vincent and things go off the rails quickly.

What makes this film redeemable is the message. It explores the idea of the conflict between reality and the artist’s vision. It staunchly claims that documentaries are always controlled by the artist, and you can’t really know what is true and what is a show.

St. Vincent’s score is wonderfully weird and sets the tone for the movie. The title song is beautiful and very fitting for the message of the show.

“Here at the Nowhere Inn / The hallways are labyrinths / Where I last sold my myth / Now I live at the Nowhere Inn”

These lyrics expose the maze of stardom and the myth of St. Vincent that she created for herself. What makes it even more effective is St. Vincent and Brownstein wrote the song together for the documentary. It shows the audience how their partnership has fallen apart, and St. Vincent has lost herself in her persona.

It was satisfying seeing the film come full circle. It opens with St. Vincent in an interview telling the story of what went wrong while filming the documentary. Then, the final sequence shows that scene again, but this time revealing everything that we have seen is fictional and completely controlled by her.

St. Vincent as herself in Bill Benz’s ‘THE NOWHERE INN.
'St. Vincent as herself in Bill Benz’s "The Nowhere Inn."

The idea of an artist’s vision and control are vital to the film; however,  the filmmakers try to take it to the extreme but miss the mark.

The film begins with Brownstein’s vision of the documentary but about halfway through it switches to St. Vincent’s and that is where things start to get weird.

Although that always seemed like the film’s trajectory, I expected a slow descent into madness rather than a weird montage of scenes that attempted to be artistic metaphors for something that I could not understand.

When Clark loses herself entirely to become St. Vincent and things get wild. However, this moment was underwhelming. To be successful at that moment, Benz should have embraced the wild and descended into utter madness, rather than settle for mediocre, confusing weirdness. Rather than using satirical sketch-like scenes of St. Vincent only selling her wigs for merchandise or creating a fictional western world with her fake family in it, it should have been one cohesive absolutely insane scene.

This film left me confused and wanting more. It was setting up a lot of promising themes that it just didn’t deliver. The Nowhere Inn should have either been a melodrama about the perils of persona or a horror film about an artist losing themselves in their creative vision. But, it tried to do both which made it fall flat.

In the end, was it worth one watch? Yes. Would I watch it again? Absolutely not.