Is The Nowhere Inn the Best Movie of All Time?

This is Best Movie of All Time, an eternal search for the greatest film ever. Read the full archives here.

Nobody seems to have hated The Nowhere Inn, but no one seems like they loved it, either. It’s uncommon for a movie to generate this kind of response because people’s tastes tend to be so extreme. Just glance through the “rotten” section of Rotten Tomatoes and you won’t find anyone saying anything too terrible, but people didn’t like it. Reverse that page to the positive reviews and you’ll see the same story. It’s pretty remarkable. The audience ratings are in line, as well, no matter what site you look at.

The Nowhere Inn is a concert movie, but it’s also a parody of concert movies. Carrie Brownstein, of Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia, plays herself as a director filming a concert movie about Annie Clark, known in the film and real life as St. Vincent. The movie’s success really depends on your interest in the layers. They’re really Annie Clark and Carrie Brownstein, but here they are playing versions of those people who are not real but also are very real. The movie opens with a few jokes about how St. Vincent is a name but Annie Clark both is St. Vincent and is not St. Vincent. It’s not really that confusing, but that’s only true if you’re already familiar with everyone involved.

But you are, aren’t you? If you’re not, there’s less than nothing here for you. If the above paragraph was even a little confusing to you or if you don’t intimately know every proper noun I’ve used so far, you can safely skip this one entirely. That’s the thing, though, if you do know all of this, there is only slightly more here for you. You can anticipate the premise and probably most of the beats. The main criticisms people seem to lay are that it’s predictable and repetitive, and boy, is it ever.

Brownstein joins Clark on a tour and aims to do a behind-the-scenes look at “the real St. Vincent,” who plays a sexual character on a tour about a sexual album. The idea seems promising to both of them, until a pivotal scene where the musician pulls out a Nintendo Switch and plays it on camera. We take from this that she’s actually not as interesting, at least all the time, as would justify a movie. It’s a fun scene and it sets up a conflict, but then we see dozens of scenes that both show and tell us the same idea. This is a recurring problem with The Nowhere Inn, and the crew behind it seems deathly afraid that we’re missing the really obvious and really clear point.

As a concert movie, it’s actually pretty cool. St. Vincent is one of my favorite artists and this album is one of my favorites of hers, and we get to see enough actual footage that it does feel mostly like the movie the fake Carrie Brownstein is trying to make. This is the most interesting thing going on in The Nowhere Inn: they made an actual version of the thing the movie is about making.

As a story about making a concert movie, it drags on and on. I think there’s enough here for a huge fan of both stars, but even they will feel the strain of the narrative chugging. Clark makes a heel turn when she realizes that Brownstein wants her to be the arrogant, hypersexual star that the audience thinks she is, but even this is telegraphed so strongly before it happens and emphasized so consistently after it happens that it isn’t that interesting to watch. There are a handful of great scenes, including one where Brownstein pulls in a fan to share their experience with Clark in a perfectly painful exchange, but they are surrounded with padding that feels like padding even in the moment.

There’s a pretty good movie in here, it’s just not enough to sustain a feature. If you’re a big fan of St. Vincent and/or you like the comedy of Carrie Brownstein, I think it’s probably worth the investment, but I really can’t recommend it too strongly. I think the consensus here exists for a good reason. The ending offers some interesting closure and it does take a risk with the way the whole thing is presented, but even that leaves you wondering what that whole experience was about.

Is it better than the last movie we looked at? There’s no comparing Akira and The Nowhere Inn, though I suppose they both aim to reinvent a genre. Even that is a stretch. Akira is more worth your time, though both films have pacing issues.

Is it the best movie of all time? No, it’s not. I do think it’s a really interesting idea that would have worked well as a thirty-minute short film. The resulting product says the same thing over and over and the great moments get lost in the weeds. We’re sticking with Persona again.

You can watch The Nowhere Inn on YouTube ($6.99 at the time of this writing). You can recommend a movie to me for this series through email at readingatrecess @ gmail.com or on Twitter @alexbad and I will watch it, no matter what. Try to pick something good.

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