Review: Downtown Express (2012)

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Mark Leeper

Apr 11, 2012, 11:28:58 AM4/11/12
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Sasha Resnick, a Russian immigrant and a
violinist with a great talent, is soon to have a
recital and is fast tracked for a career in classical
music. A small developing rock band for their musical
fascinates him sound and for their lead singer Ramona.
Sasha is convinced that he wants to be in the band and
to romance Ramona. The film stars two virtuoso musical
performers, one in rock and one in classical music.
The plot is minor, but the music is a major--perhaps
the major--attraction. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4)
or 6/10

DOWNTOWN EXPRESS has a very simple story. It is almost more just a
situation depicted on film. Once the narrative gets going it gets
its trajectory in the first act. It continues on that track in the
middle act and completes its flight in the last act landing just
where it was aimed at the beginning. The point of the film is not
to create much in the way of dramatic tension. It is to show us
some moderately well drawn characters and to accompany these images
with excellent music, some classical, some popular rock, and
eventually some that is a melding of both musical forms.

Sasha Resnick (played by Philippe Quint) is a Russian Jewish
immigrant with a huge talent for the violin. His father, Vadim
Resnick (Michael Cumpsty), is doing everything within his power to
channel Sasha into a career as a super-star classical musician.
Sasha cooperates albeit resenting his lack of personal freedom.
Attending the Juilliard School in Manhattan, he is preparing for a
recital that should announce his prodigious talent to the world.
Professionally he plays only great (Slavic) classical music. He
plays it at home, at school, in the subways where he makes a small
living playing music with his father and with his cousin as street
musicians, in old age homes, and in restaurants.

But Sasha has broader interest in harmony than his father has. He
likes to walk the streets of Manhattan to listen to the many kinds
of music that can be heard on the streets of the city. He knows
there is more to music than just the concert-hall-quality classical
variety. Sasha hears the sound of a small rock band, Downtown
Express, and its lead singer Ramona (Nellie McKay). He becomes
obsessed with both. Leading a double life, he prepares for his
recital but follows the band and Ramona. At first both reject his
persistence. But Sasha remains determined.

The story leaves many loose ends that are never tied up about
whether Sasha will be able to stay in the United States and what
will his future be in general. What matters to director Dave
Grubin and scriptwriter Kathleen Cahill, is whether he can make the
transition from classical to rock.

Philippe Quint and Nellie McKay, playing performers trying to
establish themselves as respectively a great classical violinist
and a great popular singer, are in fact already well-established in
those fields. As a violinist Quint has been nominated four times
for a Grammy Award and has played to admiring audiences. Nellie
McKay is a popular performer having released five critically
acclaimed albums and done two shows. When DOWNTOWN EXPRESS opens
in New York City at The Quad on April 20, 2012, Quint will have
just released a new album of his performances and McCay will have
just completed a show "Silent Spring--It's Not Nice to Fool Mother
Nature." It adds to the believability that they both can perform
on camera in fields in which they are already recognized virtuosos.

The story is a familiar one. Will Sasha let his father determine
his career or will he decide himself what to do with his talent?
The music itself is the best reason to see the film. I rate
DOWNTOWN EXPRESS a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. The film
opens in New York City on April 20, 2012 at The Quad.

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Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper
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