In 1949, Lino Falconetti (Victor Argo) gambles away his daughter Catherine's (Tracey Ullman) hand in marriage to butcher Joseph Santangelo (Vincent D'Onofrio). Despite the objections of Joseph's rabidly Roman Catholic mother, Carmela (Judith Malina), he wins over Catherine, and the two marry. Years later, their daughter, Teresa (Lili Taylor), grows up to be a serious-minded girl who wants to become a nun. Joseph strongly objects, so Teresa turns her attention to everyday acts of kindness.
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