Review: ‘The Nowhere Inn,’ starring St. Vincent and Carrie Brownstein

October 3, 2021

by Carla Hay

St. Vincent and Carrie Brownstein in “The Nowhere Inn” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“The Nowhere Inn”

Directed by Bill Benz

Culture Representation: Taking place in various U.S. cities, the comedy/drama mockumentary “The Nowhere Inn” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Experimental pop singer St. Vincent has conflicts with her best friend Carrie Brownstein, who has been hired to direct a documentary about St. Vincent. 

Culture Audience: “The Nowhere Inn” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars St. Vincent and Brownstein, as well as to people who enjoy unusual mockumentaries.

St. Vincent in “The Nowhere Inn” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“The Nowhere Inn” rambles, falters, and sometimes gets too meta for its own good. But it’s got enough quirky satire of celebrity documentaries to bring some laughs. You don’t have to be a fan of stars St. Vincent or Carrie Brownstein to enjoy “The Nowhere Inn,” but it might help during the parts of the movie where the pace tends to drag. Mostly, “The Nowhere Inn” is commendable for its attempt to be an original mockumentary, even if some of the comedy doesn’t serve the story very well.

In “The Nowhere Inn,” experimental pop singer St. Vincent (whose real name is Annie Clark) and Brownstein (a former star of the 2011-2018 comedy series “Portlandia”) portray versions of themselves and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay. Many parts of the movie look semi-improvised. “The Nowhere Inn” is the feature-film directorial debut of Bill Benz, a former editor, director and co-producer of “Portlandia.” People who are familiar with “Portlandia” should expect a similar tone to “The Nowhere Inn,” which brings an absurdist and deadpan spin to realistic situations.

“The Nowhere Inn” is a mockumentary within a mockumentary. On one level, it’s about the character of Carrie being convinced by her best friend St. Vincent to direct a tour documentary about St. Vincent. Footage from the documentary takes up most of the movie. But on another level, parts of the movie includes hindsight commentary from Carrie and St. Vincent about the documentary, whose production went through a lot of turmoil when the two pals became at odds with each other.

Interspersed with the off-stage footage is a lot of concert footage of St. Vincent. And so, the vast majority of the music in the movie is St. Vincent’s music. St. Vincent songs that are featured in “The Nowhere Inn” are “Year of the Tiger,” “Smoking Section,” “Pills,” “New York,” “Savior,” “Palm Desert,” “Los Ageless” and “Hang on Me.”

Because the experimental/alternative musical style of St. Vincent is so intertwined with the movie, “The Nowhere Inn” is not going to appeal to large masses of people, especially people who prefer more conventional films. However, people who know about the stereotypes of authorized celebrity tour documentaries will find parts of the movie amusing in how “The Nowhere Inn” makes a mockery of these clichés.

The movie opens with St. Vincent as a passenger in the back of limo, where an unnamed middle-aged driver (played by Ezra Buzzington) tells her that he knows that she’s famous for something, but he isn’t shy about telling her that he’s not sure what her claim to fame is: “I drive a lot of famous people,” he says. “I’ve never heard you before.”

While he’s driving, the limo driver calls his son, who’s an aspiring musician in a band, and talks to his son on speaker phone. He asks his son if he’s heard of St. Vincent. The son says no, but he mentions that he’s in a band and wonders out loud if St. Vincent could possibly help him in his music career. During this awkward conversation, she is gracious and humble and doesn’t expect to be treated like a star.

The limo driver then asks St. Vincent to sing one of her songs, to see if his son will recognize the song. St. Vincent sings “New York,” and when she gets to the part of the song where the line is “you’re the only motherfucker in the city,” the driver’s son sounds offended and asks, “Whoa! Did she just say ‘MF’?” The driver then abruptly ends the call and tells St. Vincent, “Don’t worry. We’ll find out who you are.”

The driver doesn’t really get a chance though because the limo stops shortly afterward. When St. Vincent gets out of the limo to see what’s going on, she finds that the driver’s door is open and he’s nowhere in sight. What happened to the driver and where did he go? Don’t expect any answers because it’s an example of some of the random weirdness in the movie.

St. Vincent is then seen on screen talking about the unfinished documentary that she made with Carrie as the director. St. Vincent comments, “All I can say is that things went terribly wrong.” The majority of “The Nowhere Inn” shows flashbacks to the making of the untitled documentary. Viewers are supposed to get a sense that what they are seeing is previously unreleased footage.

At first, filming of the documentary goes very well, as Carrie is given almost complete creative control. Carrie’s only request for St. Vincent is “Just be yourself” because the documentary is supposed to be a “fly on the wall experience.” St. Vincent’s shows are well-attended and she has plenty of adoring fans.

In the “hindsight” footage, St. Vincent says, “It was supposed to be a music documentary … I guess I wanted people to know who I am. I don’t want it to be a random fantasy. I wanted it to be intimate and revealing.”

But how intimate and how revealing? And more importantly to Carrie: How truthful? Over time, St. Vincent’s ego takes over, and she wants to turn the documentary into a series of staged scenes that fabricate aspects of her life. How much of a dictator does St. Vincent become during the making of the documentary? At one point in the movie, she tells Carrie: “From now on, I need more say in how other people are going to act.”

When did St. Vincent go from being a down-to-earth singer to a bossy diva? The turning point comes when a print journalist named Holly (played by Rya Kihlstedt) interviews St. Vincent while the documentary cameras are rolling. During the interview, Holly becomes distracted because her live-in girlfriend has broken up with Holly by text during the interview.

Holly is so distraught that she drags St. Vincent into this breakup mess by asking St. Vincent to call her now-ex-girlfriend and leave a voice mail to try convince the ex that Holly is not only a good person but the best thing that ever happened to the ex. It puts St. Vincent in a very awkward position, but she obliges, in order to be polite.

After manipulating St. Vincent to get involved in her personal life, Holly then cuts the interview short, as if she’s done using St. Vincent for the day. Before this annoying journalist leaves, Holly complains to St. Vincent that Holly wasn’t given a “plus one” (to get an extra ticket) when Holly was put on the guest list for the St. Vincent concert happening later that evening.

Holly says that her cousin Sarah is a fan of St. Vincent and tells St. Vincent that she’d like Sarah to be her “plus one.” St. Vincent tries not to act offended by the disrespectful way that Holly has been acting, but this entire uncomfortable interaction was caught on the documentary’s cameras. Later, when St. Vincent sees Holly and Sarah (played by Cass Buggé) at a concert after-party, the shift in St. Vincent’s attitude becomes very clear.

St. Vincent suddenly wants to do a documentary that will make her look more interesting. In one of the funnier scenes in the movie, St. Vincent introduces Carrie to her lover Dakota Johnson (playing a version of herself), while St. Vincent and Dakota are clad in lingerie and lounging on a bed together. (St. Vincent is openly queer in real life.) And the next thing you know, St. Vincent wants Carrie to film a sex video of Dakota and St. Vincent, right then and there.

An embarrassed Carrie tries to stall and suggests that they get an intimacy coordinator before filming the scene. However, St. Vincent says it’s not necessary because she and Dakota won’t be faking it. There’s no actual sex or nudity in “The Nowhere Inn,” because the movie wants what isn’t shown in this sex scene to be more amusing than what could be shown.

Another hilarious scene in the movie is when Carrie decides to go over to some St. Vincent fans who are standing in line outside the concert venue and randomly invites a young adult fan to go back with her to St. Vincent’s dressing room. The fan, whose name is Kim (played by Gabriela Flores), is overwhelmed by this surprise and bursts into tears when she sees St. Vincent in person. Kim predictably fawns over St. Vincent and tells St. Vincent that her music saved Kim’s life.

Kim tells St. Vincent that Kim’s boyfriend from high school gave St. Vincent’s 2011 album “Strange Mercy” to Kim as a birthday present. The boyfriend tragically died in a car accident two nights before their graduation. Kim says that St. Vincent’s music has helped Kim through tough times when she was feeling depressed and didn’t want to live anymore.

This sad story makes St. Vincent cry too. And she cries so much about how much the story affected her that Kim ends up comforting St. Vincent in the dressing room. It’s an amusing parody of how narcissistic celebrities can somehow make a fan’s personal tragedy all about the celebrity.

During the course of the documentary, St. Vincent becomes obsessed with wanting to appear humble and relatable in front of the cameras. But behind the scenes, she becomes a egomaniacal tyrant and almost starts acting like the documentary’s director. St. Vincent goes as far as fabricating a backstory for herself. She pretends that she grew up on a Texas ranch with a big family, and she hires actors to play these roles.

As Carrie says early on in the movie, St. Vincent is really an only child whose father is in prison. This is a plot hole in “The Nowhere Inn,” because in this Internet age, it would be hard for a celebrity such as St. Vincent to hide her family background and get away with hiring a cast of actors to portray her family in what’s supposed to be documentary. That’s why “The Nowhere Inn” takes a misstep toward the end of the movie when St. Vincent goes through an entire charade of trying to look like a Texas cowgirl from a large family.

Not surprisingly, Carrie is increasingly put off by St. Vincent trying to make a phony documentary. Carrie finds herself sidelined as a director and not being consulted on important decisions. Carrie quits the documentary at least once, which isn’t spoiler information, since St. Vincent says in the beginning of the movie that the documentary hasn’t been completed.

During all of this friendship turmoil, Carrie is also dealing with the fact that her unnamed father (played by Michael Bofshever) is dying of cancer. He’s very proud that she’s directing this documentary, and she feels obligated to finish the film so that he won’t be disappointed in her. Meanwhile, St. Vincent seems oblivious and insensitive to Carrie’s stress over her father’s health condition.

“The Nowhere Inn” includes some footage of the people in St. Vincent’s entourage, including her band members: eccentric Japanese bass player Toko (played by Toko Yasuda); “nice guy” Australian guitarist Neil (played by Chris Aquilino); and party-loving American drummer Robert (played by Drew Connick). St. Vincent’s easygoing tour manager Brian (played by Kash Abdulmalik) also gets some screen time.

However, these supporting characters don’t add much the story. “The Nowhere Inn” is really about how Carrie and St. Vincent’s once-solid friendship becomes turbulent because of disagreements over the documentary. In the production notes for “The Nowhere Inn,” it’s mentioned that Brownstein and Clark were both influenced by two movies about jaded pop stars: directors Nicolas Roeg’s and Donald Cammell’s 1970 drama “Performance” (starring Mick Jagger) and director Peter Watkins’ 1967 mockumentary “Privilege,” starring Paul Jones.

Taking cues from both of those movies, “The Nowhere Inn” has some psychedelic-looking surrealistic sequences that aren’t quite hallucinations, but they’re nevertheless part of the line blurring of reality and fiction that this mockumentary intends to spoof. “The Nowhere Inn” is at its most potent in its satire when it pokes fun at the image-obsessed trap that many celebrities fall into when they achieve a certain level of fame.

What’s less effective are the aforementioned fake Texas family scenes and the movie’s tendency to over-rely on making Carrie look like a forlorn doormat who’s shocked by what goes on during St. Vincent’s concert tour. By making Carrie so naïve in this movie, it just leads viewers to wonder how well Carrie really knows her “best friend” St. Vincent. And the subplot about Carrie’s father having cancer is a clumsy fit for this story.

Brownstein has her own real-life experiences as a music artist (she’s a singer/guitarist in the rock band Sleater-Kinney), but that background is completely erased in the movie. It would’ve been more interesting if the Carrie character had been written as someone who has experience being in a semi-famous band and is therefore better-equipped to handle St. Vincent’s egotistical shenanigans during the tour. Their arguments would’ve been more entertaining to watch.

“The Nowhere Inn” is a flawed but unique film that is going to interest some people and turn off other people. People who know what showbiz is like behind the scenes will find at least something to laugh at in “The Nowhere Inn,” even if those laughs might be occasional for some viewers. The movie is not meant to have a joke in every scene. “The Nowhere Inn” won’t be considered a classic mockumentary, but it’s worth a watch if viewers are willing to go on a sometimes bizarre but very original ride in an alternate reality created by Brownstein and St. Vincent.

IFC Films released “The Nowhere Inn” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on September 17, 2021.

2019 Grammy Awards: Lady Gaga, Travis Scott, Dua Lipa, tributes to Aretha Franklin and Dolly Parton added to lineup

February 6, 2019

by Carla Hay

Grammy Awards

Lady Gaga, Travis Scott, Dua Lipa, St. Vincent, Chloe x Halle and tributes to Aretha Franklin and Dolly Parton have been added to the performing lineup at the 61st Grammy Awards, which will take place at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on February 10, 2019. As previously announced, Alicia Keys is hosting the show, which will have its U.S. telecast on CBS.

Previously announced artists include Camila Cabello, Cardi B, Dan + Shay, Post Malone, Shawn Mendes, Janelle Monáe, Kacey Musgraves, Brandi Carlile, Miley Cyrus, H.E.R., Red Hot Chili Peppers and Diana Ross.

[February 7, 2019 UPDATE: The following entertainers will be presenters at the 61st Grammy Awards: Kelsea Ballerini, Leon Bridges, Luke Combs, Charlie Wilson, Alessia Cara, Julian Edelman, Eve, John Mayer, Bob Newhart, Smokey Robinson, Swizz Beatz, Meghan Trainor, Kane Brown, BTS, Cedric The Entertainer, Nina Dobrev, Anna Kendrick, Jada Pinkett Smith and Wilmer Valderrama.]

Lady Gaga will perform “Shallow” (from the 2018 “A Star is Born” movie soundtrack) with Mark Ronson, who wrote “Shallow” with Lady Gaga, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt. “Shallow” is nominated for four Grammys, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year. The Grammy Awards take place on the same night as the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, where Lady Gaga is nominated for Best Actress and Best  Music for “A Star Is Born.” By choosing to attend the Grammys instead, it’s clear that Lady Gaga is going to the ceremony where she thinks she has the better chance of winning more awards.

Meanwhile, on-stage collaborations at the 2019 Grammys have been announced: Cabello will be joined by J Balvin, Young Thug, Ricky Martin and Arturo Sandoval for her performance. Female singers Dua Lipa and St. Vincent will team up for their Grammy performance.

One artist who won’t be performing at the Grammys this year is Ariana Grande, who is nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album (“Sweetener”) and Best Pop Solo Performance (“God Is a Woman”). According to Variety, Grande canceled her performance and will not be attending the show because of a dispute over which songs she could sing at the Grammys. She had been set to do a medley of two songs, and reportedly had to fight the show’s producers to perform her current single “7 Rings,” but ultimately quit when the producers would not allow her to choose the second song.

The 61st Grammy Awards show is produced by AEG Ehrlich Ventures for the Recording Academy. Ken Ehrlich is executive producer, Ben Winston is executive producer, Louis J. Horvitz is director, Chantel Sausedo is the producer, and David Wild and Ehrlich are the writers.

In 2018, the Recording Academy received an enormous amount of backlash for having a male-dominated Grammy ceremony, which led to the social-media hashtag #GrammysSoMale. That year, the overwhelming number of Grammy nominees and winners were male, and the only artist with an Album of the Year nomination who was not invited to perform solo on the show was female singer Lorde. (Lorde attended the ceremony but did not perform.) In 2019, the Recording Academy has taken big steps to have more women on the Grammys stage. Keys is one of the few women who have hosted the Grammy ceremony. And three of the biggest tributes at the 2019 Grammys will be to women, while prominent on-stage collaborations will feature women.

Diva Tributes

Aretha Franklin at the Elton John AIDS Foundation Fall Gala at Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City on November 7, 2017. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Franklin, who died in of pancreatic cancer in August 2018, will have a special tribute at the Grammy Awards with performances by Yolanda Adams, Fantasia and Andra Day. A separate all-star tribute to Franklin (“Aretha! A Grammy Celebration for the Queen of Soul”) will take place on January 13 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Tyler Perry is hosting that separate tribute concert, which will include performances by Adams, Shirley Caesar, Alessia Cara, Kelly Clarkson, Common, Celine Dion, Jennifer Hudson, Keys, John Legend, Patti LaBelle, BeBe Winans, Carlile, Chloe x Halle, H.E.R., Monáe and SZA. CBS will televise the concert on March 10, 2019.

Parton, who is MusiCares’ 2019 Person of the Year, will perform a song from the “Dumplin'” movie soundtrack. As part of the Grammy Awards tribute, Little Big Town, Maren Morris, Musgraves and Perry will perform some of Parton’s songs. This will be the second tribute to Parton in two days. On February 8, Parton’s MusiCares Person of the Year concert (which is not televised) will take place at the Los Angeles Convention Center, with performances by Parton, Cyrus, Perry, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Leon Bridges, Lauren Daigle, Norah Jones, Mendes, Pink, Ronson, Chris Stapleton, Vince Gill, Don Henley, Musgraves, Willie Nelson, Linda Perry and Mavis Staples.

As previously reported, Ross is celebrating her 75th birthday this year with a “Diamond Diana” performance at the Grammys. The performance is expected to be a medley of some of her hit songs. Ross will also be a performer at “Motown 60: A Grammy Celebration,” an all-star concert for Motown’s 60th anniversary that will be filmed for CBS at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on January 12, 2019. Other “Motown 60” performers include Smokey Robinson, Boyz II Men, Chloe x Halle, Ciara, Lamont Dozier, Fantasia, Brian & Eddie Holland, Thelma Houston, Tori Kelly, John Legend, Little Big Town, Ne-Yo, Pentatonix, Martha Reeves, Valerie Simpson, Mickey Stevenson, Meghan Trainor and Stevie Wonder.  Cedric the Entertainer is hosting the show, which CBS will premiere on April 21.

Performers Nominated for Grammys This Year

It’s a tradition for most of the artists performing at a Grammy Awards ceremony are those who are nominated for Grammys that year. Most of the aforementioned artists have Grammy nominations in 2019. Cabello, Carlile and Mendes will be performing at the Grammy Awards for the first time.

Balvin is up for Record Of The Year for “I Like It,” his collaboration with Cardi B and Bad Bunny.

Cabello’s Grammy nominations this year are for Best Pop Solo Performance for “Havana [Live]” and Best Pop Vocal Album for her solo debut album, “Camila.” Cabello is a former member of Fifth Harmony.

Cardi B has five Grammy nominations this year. Her debut album, “Invasion of Privacy,” is up for Album of the Year and Best Rap Album; “Girls Like You,” her her hit collaboration with Maroon 5, is nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance; her song “I Like It” is one of the contenders for Record of the Year; and her song “Be Careful” is up for Best Rap Performance.

Carlile is nominated for six Grammys: Her song “The Joke” is up for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best American Roots Performance and Best American Roots Song, while her album “By the Way, I Forgive You” is a contender for Album of the Year and Best Americana Album.

Chloe x Halle are nominated for Best New Artist and Best Urban Contemporary Album (for “The Kids Are Alright”).

Dan + Shay’s “Tequila” is nominated for Best Country Duo/Group Performance.

H.E.R. is one of the nominees for Best New Artist, while her self-titled album is up for Album of the Year and Best R&B Album. She also nominated for Best R&B Performance (for “Best Part”) and Best R&B Song (for “Focus”).

Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” is nominated for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Song Written for Visual Media, while her song “Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Goin’?)” is nominated for Best Pop Solo Performance.

Lipa is nominated for Best Dance Recording (for “Electricity”) and Best New Artist.

Malone has four Grammy nominations: Album of the Year (for “Beerbongs & Bentleys“); his “Better Now” single is up for Best Pop Solo Performance; and his “Rockstar” collaboration with 21 Savage is nominated for Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance.

Mendes’ self titled album is nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album, while his single “In My Blood” is a contender for Song of the Year.

Monáe has two Grammy nominations this year: “Dirty Computer” is up for Album of the Year, while she has a Best Music Video nod for “PYNK.”

Morris is nominated for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance (for “The Middle,” her collaboration with Zedd and Grey); Best Country Solo Performance (for “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”); and Best Country Duo/Group Performance and Best Country Song (for “Dear Hate,” featuring Vince Gill).

Musgraves received four Grammy nominations this year: “Golden Hour” is up for Album of the Year and Best Country Album; “Butterflies” is nominated for Best Country Solo Performance; and “Space Cowboy” is a contender for Best Country Song.

Ronson has three nominations: Best Dance Recording (for “Electricity,” Dua Lipa’s collaboration with Silk City’s Ronson and Diplo) while “Shallow” is up for Song of the Year and Best Song Written For Visual Media.

Scott is up for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for “Sicko Mode,” as well as Best Rap Album for “Astroworld.”

St. Vincent is nominated for Best Rock Song (for “Masseduction”) and Best Alternative Music Album (for “Masseduction”).

Young Thug is nominated for Song of the Year for “This Is America,” which he co-wrote with Donald Glover (also known as Childish Gambino) and Ludwig Göransson.

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