‘Lost Soulz’ Review: A Rap Prodigy Ponders the Costs of Fame in a Sensitive, Cliched Coming-of-Age Story

The 21st century has seen nearly every mechanism of the entertainment industry, from distribution models and revenue streams to the cultural gatekeepers of stardom and prestige, evolve or die. But even as each new generation of artists tries to make its mark on a changing business, the classic dream of leaving everyday life behind for fame and fortune still burns as brightly as ever. The details might have changed — the old archetype of being plucked from obscurity by a record executive who promises to make you into a star has gradually been replaced by fantasies of going viral overnight — but the grandiose ambition in young artists with something to prove isn’t going away anytime soon.

Sol (Sauve Sidle) is a walking embodiment of those dreams when we first meet him in “Lost Soulz.” Katherine Propper’s directorial debut begins with the rainbow-haired rapper staring at himself in the mirror and reassuring himself that “you are gonna be a superstar. You’re the best in the world.” As he proceeds to fog up the mirror with his breath and then draw himself a heart, it’s clear that he’s not sure whether he actually believes those words or simply wants to give himself enough reassurance to make it through the day.

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Propper’s film is shot with a level of realism that will likely fool more than a few viewers into thinking they’re watching a documentary at first glance. The Texas-based rapper floats through a sea of mundane days and wild nights at neon-tinged house parties, where his rising star status is illustrated through a combination of professional cinematography and vertical iPhone videos. Things almost take a turn for the worst when a particularly wild rager is broken up by the police, but a savvy young rapper named Nina (Krystal Poppin) spots his talents and uses her friendship with a local cop to get Sol out of trouble. The freedom comes with an invitation to accompany her band on a tour of Texas, and Sol soon finds himself piling into a van and experiencing the joys of life on the road.

The merry band of hip-hop prodigies embrace their adventure with the kind of euphoric enthusiasm that only exists through the eyes of somebody seeing the world for the first time. Every little side quest and tangent, from taking photos in front of a Prada store to discussing cattle with elderly roadside farmers, is treated like a climactic adventure. They take every opportunity to turn silence into music, as the meandering film devotes a significant portion of its running time to joyful improvisational sequences as they make up their own beats and bars while marveling that their brains created something out of nothing.

Propper was inspired to develop the film after receiving a self-taped video submission from Sidle for another documentary project. The Texas high schooler assured her that his rap career would make him famous one day, and the filmmaker found him so convincing that she felt compelled to build a feature around him. Watching “Lost Soulz,” it’s not hard to see why. Sidle embodies Sol with a perfect mix of poetic cockiness and vulnerability. His face illustrates the conflict he feels between his chance at stardom and his guilt over leaving the grieving mother and sister of his late best friend behind. Sidle may well become a genuine rap star in his own right, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he becomes an in-demand actor, either.

Teenagers experimenting with new identities and finding themselves on road trips is well-worn territory for indie filmmakers. And while “Lost Soulz” features more than its share of fun scenes, it often ends up feeling like a parallel but less substantial version of recent Gen-Z road movies like “Gasoline Rainbow.” But for all of its cliched youthful exuberance, the film finds its footing in the third act when it offers a bittersweet look into the tradeoffs of fame and how their conflicts with personal obligations can derail even the most promising artists. “Music isn’t worth dying for,” Sol tells his bandmates in a particularly dark moment. He seems confident in the assertion, even if he’s less clear about what ultimately is worth dying for. The young rapper might still be a long way from internalizing life’s hardest lessons, but the film does a damn good job of showing how he handles the first one.

Grade: B-

A Kino Lorber release, “Lost Soulz” opens in select theaters on Friday, May 3.

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