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Punk rock girl 

Godass takes fuzzy look at late '80s bohemia

Teri is a young South Carolinan with a buddy who goes by the name Skank. She self-publishes a magazine called Skid Marks. She admires a veteran rock band known as Handjob Circus. Played by Nika Feldman, she's the protagonist of the movie Godass.

Given the raunchy, irreligious nature of all those monikers, you might guess that Godass concerns punk culture, and you'd be correct. Writer-director Esther Bell immerses her first film in the rebellious bohemia of South Carolina and New York of 1988. The film also subscribes to the musical movement's do-it-yourself ethos, which typically values attitude and passion over craft. Shot on digital video, Godass is the feature-film equivalent of a single cut by a garage band, being long on sincerity but short on maturity or technical know-how.

Teri may be a disaffected youth, but she's also an industrious one, tirelessly working on her radical 'zine and riding herd over two co-workers, potential boyfriend Kevin (Arik Roper) and cheerful pothead Skank (Preston Miller). Teri's short-term ambition involves roadtripping to New York to raise the magazine's profile. But a visit to the Big Apple requires she deal with Henry (George Crowley), a gay man living there who she thought was her uncle but who, she has recently discovered, is actually her biological father.

Godass isn't shy about sexuality. One scene finds Teri masturbating in her room, and when her mother calls her, she yells back, "I'm doing my homework!" In another scene, when she rebuffs the advances of Handjob Circus' aging singer during an interview, he demon-strates an unpublicized talent of fellating himself (his back to the camera, it is a relief to report).

Bell's depiction of 'zine publishing and bohemian hangouts is so authentic you can practically smell the stale bong water. Godass gives a first-hand glimpse at "couch-surfing" -- the practice of crashing at the homes of like-minded people you've just met -- and where short films are screened with real projectors. But the documentary-level details can only carry the film so far, with the actual plot being terribly thin.

Teri initially has no intention of seeing Henry, but when their car gets towed, she and her penniless friends have no choice but to show up on his doorstep. The recent victim of a gay-bashing, Henry's being nursed back to health by his ex, played with persnickety stiffness by Fred Schneider of the B-52's. As father and daughter attempt to bond, the acting and dialogue increasingly resembles that of a primitive "After School Special."

Teri's father issues have a Freudian echo in her fascination with the tale of a Sumerian goddess, the likely source of the film's purposelessly provocative title. Animated with still photography, we see recurring scenes of the goddess/hero fighting a monster and cheating death, which offer metaphors to Teri's own life. Her druggy-stumble through a deafening party provides a weak parallel to the underworld, though.

As Teri, Feldman has enough low-key charm to suggest that she could grow into a sharp indie starlet like Janeane Garofalo or Lili Taylor. Unfortunately, the rest of the actors have underwritten roles, with Miller's Skank providing comic relief mostly through his flyaway hair.

And much as one wants to give a little slack to a no-budget first film, Godass' inconsistencies are difficult to explain away. The scene where Teri meets with her deeply religious grandmother is markedly amateurish, while in flashbacks to 10th grade, Teri and her friends have To Kill a Mockingbird drawls that have somehow vanished only a few years later.

Godass begins with a mysterious hit-and-run in the opening credits and returns to dreamlike images of a male figure in a sinister posture, but neither notion builds to much payoff. And despite the presence of the band Lunachicks on the soundtrack, the film isn't a very effective showcase for the punk rock Bell champions, with few tunes lingering in the memory. But Godass will nonetheless strike a few chords with plenty of people from the punk generation, especially anyone who's leafed through a guerrilla newspaper or gotten bruised in a mosh pit.

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