Fame is a double-edged sword. You probably are aware of this. That notion is central to what Annie Clark (artist/musician St. Vincent) and Carrie Brownstein (musician/actor) are sending up with their film The Nowhere Inn. What a curious thing this film is. It presents itself as a documentary/mockumentary but also as a narrative film at times. It lampoons the rock-doc but takes asides that play with psychological horror, music videos, and art-house freakouts. The thing that carries it through all these shifting aesthetics is its sense of humor. This isn't to say The Nowhere Inn is a comedy but that may be the easiest way to classify it.
At the center is St. Vincent, a musician who is known for changing her aesthetics, visually and musically from album to album. The film begins with Clark reaching out to Brownstein, her best friend, to make a tour documentary of St. Vincent's Masseducation tour that shows who Clark really is. They are playing heightened versions of themselves here. Clarke doesn't want to make the standard tour film here. Brownstein agrees as both know that touring is boring save for the performance each night. We see things start to fall apart early on. Brownstein keeps having Clark redo things or offers platitudes when Clark asks how the film is turning out. At one point, Brownstein asks Clark to bring some of her wild stage personas into the everyday.
The interplay between Brownstein and Clark is key to the film. Their exchanges as Brownstein tries to pull something out of Clark are sometimes very funny. There is a hit-and-miss quality to the whole film. Brownstein is pulling from her Portlandia experience so scenes often feel like sketches. One hilarious moment see Brownstein Google "best documentaries" after expressing how lost she feels in figuring out what the film is. These moments may hit harder if you are fan of these two female rockers. I can't imagine why you would seek this out if you weren't familiar with St. Vincent but if you do, I would be curious what parts land.
Interspersed with the sketch-like faux behind-the-scenes moments is performance footage from the tour. There is no doubt how talented St. Vincent is and how well her stage presence translates to film. At one point, I wished this was a more traditional tour documentary but then it wouldn't vibe with the St. Vincent aesthetic. Instead, the St. Vincent persona begins to take over the film. She forces Brownstein at one point to film her having sex with Dakota Johnson. The scene is slightly surreal and uncomfortable but speaks to the ways in which provocation can become easily forced once the camera rolls.
Director Bill Benz often gives the documentary a stylized look. His surrealistic touches don't always work but they add a visual flair that matched St. Vincent. One may walk away not exactly sure what The Nowhere Inn amounts to but you will have favorite scenes. Mine included a few performances and some very funny exchanges between Carrie Brownstein and Annie Clark's touring band.