Review by Sean Boelman
Those who are familiar with the work of musician St. Vincent know that she has a very distinctive persona. The mockumentary The Nowhere Inn riffs on her on-stage presence, creating what is arguably one of the most fascinating explorations of fame and the spotlight in recent years.
The film is positioned as a documentary that St. Vincent has commissioned about herself as she is touring, which begins to blur the lines between fiction and reality as she becomes cognizant of the disparity between her on-stage and real-life personalities. But those expecting this to be a run-of-the-mill mockumentary comedy will be surprised by the fact that this is an existential, occasionally even cerebral movie that embraces its weirder elements.
This is definitely a film that gets crazier and crazier as it progresses. It starts out as a slightly wacky satire, gets to a point of absurdity in the second act, and then devolves into utter madness for the finale. The unabashed weirdness of the movie may put off average viewers, but being that the target is largely St. Vincent fans, it will be on brand.
Clearly the most impressive thing about the film, though, is what it has to say. It’s almost ironic to call something “honest” when it fundamentally dissects the idea of so-called “authenticity”, but the movie is less full of itself than a majority of other films that are about being famous. And the fact that St. Vincent is so self-aware makes everything work much better.
Something else that is interesting about the movie is that it doesn’t hinge entirely on St. Vincent. Actress Carrie Brownstein (who also co-wrote the screenplay) is an important player here as well. The dynamic between the two ladies serves as the emotional core of the film, which is especially important in grounding the movie when it (purposefully) gets colder in the back half.
St. Vincent obviously does a great job of playing herself in the film, which shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Also playing herself, Brownstein’s performance is much more low-key, but no less effective, especially when she is going back-and-forth with St. Vincent. There is also a hilarious cameo from Dakota Johnson that will likely leave viewers scratching their heads, but in a good way.
On a technical level, the movie is mostly very effective. The use of surreal imagery, particularly in the second half of the film, is excellent. Unlike a lot of movies about musicians, it doesn’t feel like a music video, but has a distinctive style of its own. That said, St. Vincent’s music does play a large role in the film, and that obviously results in a great soundtrack.
The Nowhere Inn is a very impressive movie, delivering on every bit of its promise. Those who aren’t fans of St. Vincent should probably stay away, as it’s characteristically weird, but those for whom the film is intended will undeniably dig it.
The Nowhere Inn hits theaters and VOD on September 17.