There’s no one quite as domineering as a daddy with a dream for his son, a situation that leads to standard-issue rebellion in Downtown Express. The twist to director David Grubin’s generally routine indie is that his star is Grammy-nominated violinist Philippe Quint, whose virtuoso artistry brings authenticity to his lead role as Sasha, a gifted violinist who must choose between his visa-less father Vadim’s (Michael Cumpsty) preferred Juilliard–to–Carnegie Hall route, or his own mounting desire to instead play with an up-and-coming funk band fronted by Ramona (recording artist Nellie McKay). Russia meets America, and classical music meets modern rock, with Grubin’s cinematography exhibiting a loose, on-the-fly quality (born from his work as a documentarian) that captures a genuine feel for the energy of his diverse NYC locales. Although McKay is a stiff performer when not onstage, Quint is lively both when training with his Juilliard instructor (Carolyn McCormick)—who, unbelievably, falls for overbearing Vadim—or playing on subway platforms. Nonetheless, whether to let go and follow your own path is a stock dilemma, and an implausibly hopeful conclusion winds up undercutting the realism of this immigrant song.
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