Before settling in to see The Nowhere Inn, I quizzed the film's publicist about working with its lead, the indie rock star St. Vincent. What's she like? I wanted to know. Is she cool and aloof like her stage presence indicates? Or is she a secret sweetheart?
My question, it turned out, is sort of the point of The Nowhere Inn. St. Vincent, AKA Annie Clark, made a film with her close friend Carrie Brownstein, star of Portlandia and guitarist/singer for pioneering band Sleater-Kinney, about making a film about St. Vincent. If this sounds like a celebrity vanity project that makes your head ache, well: It is and it isn't. It's an interrogation of celebrity vanity projects while also offering up the same nuggets we crave from celebrity vanity projects: performance footage, quote-unquote intimate moments. It's also weird and trippy and beautiful and often very, very funny.
The Nowhere Inn is very much a scripted project, written by Clark and Brownstein and directed by Portlandia alum Bill Benz, but it takes the shape of a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a documentary about Clark and her alter ego St. Vincent. The concept is that Brownstein -- who I will henceforth refer to as Carrie or CB to distinguish between the real person and her fictionalized avatar -- sets out to put her friend's life to film, hopefully ending up with something like Lady Gaga's Five Foot Two or Taylor Swift's Miss Americana, the latter of which is another movie premiering at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The only problem is that Annie is actually pretty boring when she's not decked out in latex and shredding at concerts.
Her bandmates are at a loss to define anything "interesting" about her, save for her music and love of radishes. She plays Scrabble on her tour bus after shows. She works out regularly, eats healthily, and appears to be a genuinely kind, down-to-earth person. According to Carrie, she doesn't really make for an interesting documentary.