“The Nowhere Inn,” the feature directorial debut from Bill Benz, is a meta, off-kilter and puckish study of reality, friendship and the fictionalized enigma of celebrity. The film is co-written by Carrie Brownstein and Annie Clark, who star in the film, a rogue documentary of sorts following Clark’s latest tour as musical performer, St. Vincent. Benz, a longtime editor on “Portlandia” (which stars Bernstein), carries over the humor and sensibility of the comedy series, fostering a chaotic, fascinating portrait of image. Think of a mesh between “Portlandia” and “Documentary Now.” It has the chops to make audiences think of creative implications through stylized dissection and wit.

Fully in its own fictionalized world, Carrie plays herself, documenting the life on the road with Annie, aka the persona of St. Vincent. Annie calls on her friend to help tell the world who she really is, as seen through her lens. A cherished on-stage alter ego, Annie can’t help but be confused when Carrie soon begs for honesty in order to spice up the documentary in spite of Annie’s much-too-ordinary self.  When she wants realness, it’s played for boring consumption and not the ultra glamorized version of her friend. This creates a rift between the two, forming a power dynamic shift in who really has the control over the perception of this artist, and is it all her own? The film is full of deadpan sketches commenting on the notion of reality and some substitute for it when we put a star on the pedestal. Whenever Carrie vies for authenticity in Annie, the truth starts to crumble when what she’s expecting isn’t what lies in front. In the midst of it all, Carrie is also seen to be dealing with her own personal troubles as she makes a name for herself.

Annie Clark (left) and Carrie Brownstein (right) Photo Courtesy: Sundance Institute

As Carrie keeps pushing Annie to open up, pull back the curtains on St. Vincent, it nurtures the bogus appeal of diva status, and Annie’s behavior grows insincere. To put up a front for the camera becomes salacious and purposeful as Annie goes over-the-top, sometimes even making Carrie uncomfortable for asking such a thing from her friend. In one sequence, Annie invites Carrie over to tape a raw moment on the sheets between herself and her girlfriend, played by Dakota Johnson. It’s clearly not the spice Carrie was in search for, but she holds the phone camera up, nonetheless, to support her spiraling friend. “The Nowhere Inn” then becomes the damning veil of celebrity, candid efforts and a unique blend of it all in mockumentary form.

The celebrity image is developed and poked at in oversaturated visions of who St. Vincent is, on the stage embodying utter, rock power, and off stage as a normal person. Benz’s film travels through vignettes and departing sketches of Annie’s life, that of growing up in a honky-tonk Texan family to comedic relief and seeing herself in what can only be described as a self humiliating nightmare. There is real villainy in the way fake persona creeps to the surface of Annie’s character, like an orchestrated play. To the film’s advantage, some of its tricks do pay off for this reason.

Near the end, there’s a reflection on friendship and narrative dynamics, even as the film steeps too close to the eccentrics of it all. Two friends have become embattled with their own creative ownership of themselves while trying to either please or confront the other. It opens the discussion of icons as untouched as opposed to just being average. “The Nowhere Inn” is a colorful, peculiar examination of fame, friendship and truth, weaved together by sketches and musical performances. It’s not for everyone, given its zany events, but it has a clear and truthful understanding at its heart.

Rating: ★★★


Directed by: Bill Benz

Written by: Carrie Brownstein, Annie Clark

Cast: Carrie Brownstein, Annie “St. Vincent” Clark