A promising if uneven debut feature for writer-director Esther Bell, the loosely autobiographical "Godass" follows its punky young heroine through some life changes that are less well realized than the film's smart, funny grasp of background milieus and subsidary characters. While vid-shot pic's pacing and structure are haphazard, bright sensibility and polished presentation on a low budget suggest Bell has a future worth tracking.

A promising if uneven debut feature for writer-director Esther Bell, the loosely autobiographical “Godass” follows its punky young heroine through some life changes that are less well realized than the film’s smart, funny grasp of background milieus and subsidary characters. While vid-shot pic’s pacing and structure are haphazard, bright sensibility and polished presentation on a low budget suggest Bell has a future worth tracking.

Framed by a (rather irrelevant) car crash, story is principally set in 1988. Moody South Carolinian Teri (Nika Feldman) plans a road trip to NYC to hawk her punk zine “Skid Marks,” taking along skateboarder b.f. Kevin (Arik Roper) and his bud Skank (Preston Miller).

Their car promptly vanishes in the big city, however, forcing trio to look up Teri’s biological father Henry (George Crowley) — a gay man laid up from a bashing incident, tended by the lover (Fred Schneider of the B-52’s) who’d just moved out due to Henry’s uptight, closeted ways. Teri harbors much resentment toward her dad, whom she thinks abandoned her long ago; the truth, when it comes out, is more complicated.

While not sentimentally belabored, this inevitable father-daughter rapprochement is developed in rote fashion; ditto a repressed-abuse-memory thread, teased in recurrent flashbacks. As a result, pic’s emotional core feels undercooked, and narrative arc is sometimes clumsy.

But Bell is right-on about nearly everything else: The mid-’80s alt-rock/punk scene, Teri’s ambivalence toward most relationships (including one with Julianne Nicholson as an erstwhile adolescent best friend turned adult junkie), and some surprising character twists (Southern-fried slackers Kevin and Skank prove less Neanderthal than first impressions would suggest) are all incisively drawn.

Naturalistic perfs wisely let the oft-wry dialogue and situations sneak up on us rather than going for overt laughs; resourceful prod package includes some brief animated bits. Tech aspects are good within video bounds. Soundtrack features tunes by Lunachicks, Sleepyhead, and other alt-rock bands.

Godass

Production

A Hell's Bells production. Produced by Lori Cheatle, Mindy Pfeffer, Rob Hall, Esther Bell. Executive producer, Pfeffer. Directed, screenplay by Esther Bell.

Crew

Camera (color, video), Milton Kam; editor, Rob Hall; production designer, Linda Graveline; costume designer, Feldman; sound designer, Joe Mendelson; assistant director Preston Miller; casting, Kirsten Mann, Carter Stout, Dolly Hall. Reviewed at San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, June 21, 2000. Running time: 73 MIN.

With

Nika Feldman, Preston Miller, Arik Roper, Julianne Nicholson, George Crowley, Fred Schneider, David Ilku, Tina Holmes, Lola Labelle.
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