Fresh Kills (Jennifer Esposito, 2023): United States

Reviewed by Maya Kingsbury. Viewed at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2024.

Jennifer Esposito made her directing debut with Fresh Kills (2023), a narrative feature which she wrote the screenplay for, helped produce, and acted in as well, starring as the mother. Among the rest of her cast is Odessa A’vion, known for Grand Army and Fam, Emily Bader who is in Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin, and Domenick Lombardozzi who plays an officer in The Wire. Jennifer Esposito brought in Ben Hardwickle as the cinematographer for Fresh Kills, which was edited by Todd Sander, who cut a theatrical trailer for Steven Spielberg’s (who speaks very highly of Todd according to IMDb) award winning film War Horse. Shining as the Casting Director is Lindsay Graham, who also casted Silver Linings Playbook, Suicide Squad, Promising Young Woman, The Magnificent Seven, and many more. Her talent shows with her casting of the two sisters (Odessa A’vion and Emily Bader), who’s performances are raw and electric.

Fresh Kills follows a family led by father and New York mob world mogul, Joe Larusso. Mother, Francine Larusso, has long been stuck in her ways, seeming to have a “make the best of the cards you’ve been dealt” attitude. Rather than pinning the mob scene as all bad, director Jennifer Esposito portrays the humanity in all her characters, showing the ways in which the mob world is a means to an end for many that know no different and therefore have few options. The film portrays the struggles of gender roles and the limited options that women have, depicted by the constrictive 80’s.

Fresh Kills is not your typical mob movie. Unlike mob life film predecessors and pioneers like The Godfather (1972) and Mean Streets (1973), Fresh Kills offers a new female perspective in a raw and heart wrenching way as we watch the two mob daughters navigate the world coming from a mob family, the lack of opportunities that life offers them, and how they each respond to it. While one daughter (Odessa A’vion) has accepted the life, the younger daughter (Emily Bader) yearns for a new and different life in the outside world. Fresh Kills discusses the guilt and shame that can come with separating from a family who is simultaneously responsible for all that you have been given, while also the birthplace of trauma and confines. 

I saw Fresh Kills at the 2024 Santa Barbara International FIlm Festival, and listened to director Jennfier Esposito discuss her film in a First Time Female filmmaker talk as well. If not for the film itself, Jennifer Esposito is worth supporting as a sharp minded, beautifully ferocious and honest woman with a strong voice and many interesting perspectives to share.

I would recommend Fresh Kills for traditional mob film lovers as it offers a reinvention and display of mob life gender politics. While the story felt like it included a drawn out beginning, the slow and raw performances at the end make it worth a watch. Odessa A’vion and Emily Bader shine together as sisters and Jennifer Esposito’s ending scene pings straight to the heart.


About this entry