A hall of mirrors reflecting not terribly much, “The Nowhere Inn,” directed by Bill Benz, is an in-joke perpetrated by the singer Annie Clark, who performs as St. Vincent, and her friend and fellow musician Carrie Brownstein. The pair wrote it together and star as versions of themselves.
After a prologue in which Clark’s limo driver obnoxiously professes ignorance of who Clark is (“Don’t worry, we’ll find out who you are,” he promises), the bulk of “The Nowhere Inn” unfolds as a drama about the making of a documentary, apparently never completed.
Brownstein is directing a backstage portrait with the aim of depicting Clark as she really is. But Brownstein isn’t a seasoned documentarian (she does an internet search for “best documentaries”), and Clark’s offstage remarks (“I don’t even like to dress a salad, you know? I’m like, I want to taste the vegetables”) are completely uninteresting.
Brownstein encourages Clark to “heighten” her camera presence, which causes Clark to bring on a girlfriend (Dakota Johnson, likewise playing herself or “herself”). When Clark becomes increasingly mean, and her efforts to control the documentary more assertive, Brownstein strives to make her relatable again.
Formally lively, “The Nowhere Inn” is a true meta exercise in the sense that the more derivative and self-conscious its conceptual gambits seem (stick around: The reflexivity continues after the end credits), the more it proves its ostensible point: that Clark, or her constructed persona, is less intriguing than her music and how she performs it. Fittingly, the movie most comes to life when she’s shown singing.