I'm writing this out of great selfishness. Downtown Express does not have a distributor at this point, which means that an album of the film's music is not available for sale. And I want that album badly. So I'm going to write about the movie in the hope that it will get more attention and get a distributor so I can get that album. C'mon, somebody pick it up. I'm standing here with cash in hand, ready to give it to anyone who takes a chance on it.
Downtown Express is the story of Sasha (Philippe Quint), a Russian immigrant brought here by his father Vadim (Michael Cumpsty) to study music at Julliard. Sasha is a gifted violinist, trained since the age of three by his cellist father. Sasha is working hard with his teacher Marie (Carolyne McCormick) to prepare for a recital which will launch his career. Vadim's passion for music is off the scale and he often barges into the lessons to correct Marie's interpretation of Tchaikovsky. Sasha is a bit more broad minded about music. We see him walking the streets of New York, thrilling to variety of street musicians he finds along his way. He goes to see the band Downtown Express play at a bar and is so taken with them, and particularly their singer Ramona (Nellie McKay), that he asks to join the band.
What follows is a lot of musical brilliance as Sasha tries to meld his classical violin with a modern alternative style band. The movie's story isn't anything new. The son clashes with the traditional ways of the father but earns his grudging respect by excelling in his own way. But the way that story unfolds, fueled by some truly gifted and charismatic musicians, takes this from something ordinary into something transcendent. Yes, I'm outright gushing here. I'm a guy who has struggled his whole life to put aside other people's expectations to pursue my own artistic creations. The phrase "But artists don't make any money" has haunted me over the years, as well meaning parents tried to push me into more lucrative careers. Money doesn't mean a damn thing to me if I'm miserable earning it. Pursuing art of my own is something I'd do for free. Learning to be okay with that has taken me my entire adult life. This movie is exactly about that struggle. There is a moment when Sasha is rehearsing with the band as they try to perfect their sound on the way to an important gig that literally brought tears to my eyes. This wasn't actors pretending to be musically brilliant as they evolve before our eyes. They really did it. And it is a beautiful thing to behold. Writer/director David Grubin has made something truly magical here.
I can't say enough about Philippe Quint as the lead. He is a monstrously charismatic fellow who backs it up with electrifying violin playing. He's a musician who learned to act for this movie and it's a spectacular debut. He has great chemistry with Nellie McKay, who has acted before but is also a wonderful musician. Cumpsty and McCormick are veteran actors who add a great layer to the movie with their sweetly developing romance. And in the smaller roles, I liked the band members and Sasha's cousin a lot too. It's just a great cast.
So, again, somebody pick this up for distribution. I'm ready to put cash down on a movie ticket, album and DVD right now. Please, take my money.