Tribeca Film Review: Lost Soulz
Austinite Katherine Propper's rap road trip goes to heartfelt places
By Richard Whittaker,
1:00PM, Fri. Jun. 16, 2023
That's not sweet as in sickly, but sweet like honey: dense, yet flowing, heady and captivating. For her debut feature, Tribeca-selected rap road trip, Lost Soulz, she revisits the themes from "Street Flame" of how young people feel out their grief through creativity and confusion, and how those reactions are no less valid than supposedly more "mature" responses.
That's not the only element of "Street Flame" that she brings over, as she reunites with cast member Sauve Sidle, this time drawing as much on his skills as a rapper as an actor. Here he plays Sol, a talented kid with – well, if not all eyes on him, then enough that realize he has potential if he just goes in the right direction. Exactly what direction that is isn't exactly clear to him. After all, he's young, partying, getting his head turned a little bit by praise, but this isn't some simple rise-and-fall of an artist story. He hasn't really risen beyond back yard shows, so of course he's going to get flattered when rising rap collective Lost Soulz ask him to get in the van.
The parties and the ensuing road trip have a hazy quality to them, buzzed but not quite high, and that's reflective of the ubiquity of drugs in Sol's life – but again, this is no after-school special. It's more the vibe of the story, a wash over the canvas that Propper paints upon.
And in that group portrait, she happens upon a fascinating visual language that somehow captures a movement in Texas teen culture that has so far evaded a clear description, a particular angle of intersection between various forces that don't seem to make sense before they converge. It's akin to how bubbas and freaks found some common ground in Austin's cosmic cowboy scene, and it sparkles here, like the moment when the collective records a music video. There's hidden layers in having young, aspirational musicians whipping out their iPhones to film in front of a closed Prada store in former artist desert haven Marfa. That it doesn't make simple sense is why it makes sense, as the Lost Soulz embrace both the dream and the joke in equal measures.
Yet there's no wink to Propper's camera. Instead, she calls on the low-key naturalism of her earlier work, both the delicate character work of "Street Flame" and the actors-as-themselves element of the hybrid docu-narrative "Birds." That approach brings a warmth and intimacy, especially in scenes in which the kids freestyle, sometimes awkwardly and fumbling, in the back of the van. Those moments are given quiet counterpoint as the trip continues, and that camaraderie gives way to claustrophobia, Sidle excels in this technique, letting his wistful charisma shape the drama, most especially in his rising tension with Seven (Aaron Melloul), who becomes an unlikely mirror to Wesley (Siyanda Stillwell), the friend Sol leaves behind.
Propper's greatest success is that she doesn't overdramatize tragedy and trauma. Awful things do occur, but in an organic way, so that the inevitable reaction is a sense of stunned shock. That's why there's no sense of judgement: Instead, there is just Propper's overwhelming sense of empathy for what it is to be young right now.
Fri., June 16, 9pm, Village East by Angelika