As the white stretch limo rolls through the highway on the edge of the Joshua Tree National Monument, the driver rolls down the privacy screen and hits the immaculately put-together star in the back with the question she’s come to dread.
“So, you’re a singer?”
She knows where this is going, as do we. “Never heard of you” is coming, because in movies about rock singers, the limo drivers have never heard of anybody and are downright rude about it. And if there’s anything the lady in the limo knows well, it’s how rock stars come off in movies about rock stars.
“Maybe, sing one’a your songs?”
“The Nowhere Inn” is what happens when a rock star — St. Vincent in this case — sets out to NOT make a concert/”behind the music” documentary about herself. It’s presented as a slice of her fantasized life packaged in a “Why was (your) your movie never completed?” docu-comedy.
The pitch? St. Vincent gets her friend Carrie Brownstein from TV’s “Portlandia” to make a film about the Grammy darling born Annie Erin Clark, reinvented as a Klimt-perfect, guitar-rocking sex symbol/art rock goddess.
If you don’t follow the Grammys, it’s easy not to have heard of her. She’s not a stadium rocker. Some of us got hip to her act when she collaborated with art rocker David Byrne of The Talking Heads for an LP and a joyously offbeat small venue tour with a brass section that accompanied them in new songs and delightful covers of The Talking Heads’ greatest hits.
To pigeon hole her, she’s a Polyphonic Spree alumna, a Laurie Anderson/David Byrne/Kate Bush-influenced rocker in vinyl minidresses playing color-coordinated guitars, a star who has the striking looks (she resembles the actress Jamie Gertz) and futuristic, multi-media stage presentation and wardrobe to be something of a phenomenon.
“New York isn’t New York without you, love,” she sings. “If I last-strawed you on 8th Avenue, well, you’re the only mother—–r in the city who can stand me.”
That gets your attention. But the running gag of “The Nowhere Inn” is she’s too damned dull, “nerdy normal” offstage, to make an interesting subject for a movie. Brownstein’s mock befuddlement is how to pair the arresting stage presence St. Vincent is in concert with The Banality of Annie.
“I know who I am,” St. Vincent snaps. “What does it matter if anybody else does?”
She plays Scrabble after shows, keeps a quiet and contemplative tour bus. She likes food where “I can taste the dirt…I don’t even like to dress salads!”
“Maybe a little after show dance party on the bus” would liven things up, Brownstein suggests.
“We’ve never done that.”
Maybe check in on her dad, who’s in jail? Maybe not. Let’s visit her Texas family, get a load of who she is via where she came from. There are guns involved, including hers.
We see a few (tiny) snippets of concert footage, St. Vincent’s band (actors play them offstage) lined up horizontally, cross-stage, with big “True Stories” video screen behind them, rather than the conventional singer-guitarist/bassist/keyboards backed by a drummer set up.
But as the costume changes pile up, our filmmaker grows frustrated and our star rebels by deciding to give the gimmick-and-glitz addicted public what they crave. She invites Carrie into her hotel room where she and Dakota Johnson (“50 Shades of…”) are in their underwear and ready to announce their coupling to the world.
St. Vincent is a gorgeous and gay rock star ready to play the PR game. She’s got the whole thing mapped out, even the expiration date of this “stunt.”
“I love you baby, but I’m married to the road.”
Johnson, quite convincing here, is not amused.
It all fakery, the affair with Johnson, the wig St. Vincent wants to sell as her only concert tour “merch,” the “playing a bigger version of myself” in this movie because “this is how actors play rock stars.”
Rock movie cliches include an arrogant, over-familiar magazine journalist who “didn’t listen to a word I said” but came to the in-print conclusion that she’s “impenetrable and aloof,” a “snob.” There’s even a weepy “Your music saved my life” fan encounter, generating fake tears from the fake version of Annie Erin Clark.
Brownstein acts out in growing desperation to make this “movie” work, to reinvent herself as a “success” and a filmmaker for her (fake) dad, who is sick and in chemo.
As Annie lets St. Vincent take over, “the star” distances herself from “my best friend,” the one who is making the film that St. Vincent is sure she’ll be able to control her image with. She even hires Carrie an assistant.
“I just thought you needed someone you could hang out with and talk about your dad.”
Ouch. What are “friends” for?
“Nowhere Inn” never quite crawls out from under the David Byrne influence as a movie or a film conceit. It’s more droll than funny, and only novel in the sense that she’s mocking the conventions of such movies and they’re beyond mockery at this point.
Including more of her music might have made for a more revealing portrait. But not “revealing” is pretty much the point in this daft but dry goof on The Rock Star Documentary.
Rating: unrated, some profanity, a little lingerie vamping
Cast: St. Vincent (Annie Erin Clark), Carrie Brownstein, Dakota Johnson
Credits: Directed by Bill Benz, script by Carrie Brownstein and St. Vincent. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:31