It’s 1990 in Eltingville, Staten Island, which has recently become an epicenter for the minor league of organized crime and misguided youth. Young Brandon Russo and his loyal group of lifelong friends just robbed an ATM machine. The heist went surprisingly well, with Brandon at the helm of the operation. When he goes to pay his cut to the career criminals that are mentoring him down this dead-end road, they wind up taking the whole pie. In the following scene Brandon goes to see Paul Daley, his street boss, who informs Brandon that he will need to kick up forty percent on the ATM job, double the usual fee. What does it matter at this point, they have the whole thing anyway, but Brandon thinks they’ll get their cut back, so this infuriates him. He speaks back to Paul, which is not a good idea, and he gets a stern reprimand. They end on a more positive note and Brandon is informed that the big boss, Mr. Scalfani is impressed with him and wants to meet the young protege. Brandon then goes to see his friends for lunch and he has to tell them of the mishap, although there is the good news to tell of the Scalfani meeting. His friends give him terrible advice regarding the meeting, but Brandon stays focused.
Later that same day he goes home for a family dinner. It’s Brandon, his older sister Jennifer, who has prepared the meal, their father Michael Russo, a New York City Police Officer and Nonna, his mother-in-law and the quintessential grandma to Brandon and Jennifer. It’s just a year after their beautiful matriarch, Theresa Russo, has died of breast cancer. She wrote them a letter and asked for it to be read a year after her passing. The time has come and the letter is read. It is nothing but “love, love, love” and she beautifully speaks from the grave to her family. Theresa’s words hit hard for Brandon, who she told to “never take no for an answer in life, because she will always be there to say yes”. Brandon excuses himself from the table, while Jennifer sings the song she sang at her mother’s funeral for her father. It is a beautiful moment, but you can feel the pain and sadness they are all experiencing.
Later that night Brandon goes to meet Mr. Scalfani to get his cut back from the ATM heist. Paul Daley and Carmine Cionne are there with Scalfani playing cards and drinking whiskey. Brandon walks in bright eyed and happy to be in the mix on this level, but he is rapidly disappointed when Scalfani hands him an empty bag and exits. Brandon is bewildered at the thought of getting nothing for the good work he did. Paul tries to explain to him that life is a series of disappointments and that he should get used to it, but Brandon does not accept this. He steals Paul’s little black book of contacts when the opportunity presents itself and the next day he goes to see his mom at the cemetery. As he is thanking her for the beautiful letter a gust of wind comes and blows a $20 bill into Brandon’s lap. In his mind it’s his cut as well as the affirmation from his mom to not take no for an answer. Brandon walks off from the cemetery with his head high, ready to take on the world.
Directed by Chris Roberti (USA)