LOST SOULZ – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

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Lost Soulz, the debut feature from writer/director Katherine Propper, isn’t as bleak as its title might suggest. This road trip movie following a group of aspiring rappers and musicians is really about found family, that harmonious connection with someone who knows your truth, even if you’ve just met.

Though not a documentary, the film has a cinéma vérité feel, due in part to its diegetic sound, closeups and medium shots, many in the minivan where the group bonds while riding across Texas to a gig in El Paso. Yet the closeness also comes through in the warm encouragement and creativity of its cast of mostly newcomers, who also wrote the songs they perform here.

The loose plot involves Sol (Sauve Sidle), who says his name is “like the sun,” trying to break into the music business. He lives as a brother with Wesley (Siyanda Stillwell), his friend and manager; Wesley’s younger sister, Jessie (Giovahnna Gabriel), and their mom, Belinda (Kendra L. Franklin, Little).

The young adults sell drugs for studio time when they’re not making low-key music videos in a parking garage. But Sol has an opportunity for more at a house party one night where Nina (Krystall Poppin) and the guys she manages are set to perform. One of many touches of camaraderie here is how the party’s host insists on paying Sol if he’ll get onstage, even though Sol loves music so much, he says he’d do it for free.

His performance impresses Nina enough that she intervenes when the cops arrive to bust up the party over the noise. Nina introduces Sol to the others, who invite him to join them at the El Paso show. Sol accepts, even though concerns about leaving Wesley behind linger, especially once Jessie phones him on the road.

Sol’s ambivalence about whether to head home or press on to El Paso adds dramatic tension, as does his personality clash with Seven (Aaron Melloul), a white guy whose wavy black hair brings to mind actor Timothée Chalamet but with reckless impulses. Yet the film’s strength is in its immersive moments that feel spontaneous, such as when the weed, beats and rhymes flow with each mile early in the trip, one person spouting lines that inspire another. The guys urge Nina to chime in from the front seat at one point, and she slays.

Later, the whole group builds off a beat from Wesley as Sol rhymes about looking to the sky to fill a void inside. It’s a feeling they all share, and each provides a phrase or a verse as Mao (Alexander Brackney), the group’s affable peacemaker, comes up with a compatible melody.

This isn’t the type of film with a magical record deal at the end of the road but a portrait of the day-to-day grind of pursuing a dream and the payoff of genuine bonds. The group sleeps in shifts and finds fun and beauty in modest moments, like a birthday, a zoo visit, a skatepark, and late-night chats around a campfire. It’s not easy, Mao says, but if it was, everybody would do it.”

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Valerie Kalfrin

Valerie Kalfrin is an award-winning crime journalist turned freelance film writer whose work appears at RogerEbert.com, In Their Own League, Script, The Hollywood Reporter, and other outlets. Also a screenwriter and script consultant, she’s passionate about challenging stereotypes about gender and disability. Let’s tell better stories and tell stories better.