BREAKING HABITS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Documentary

Director: Robert Ryan.

Breaking Habits (2018)

This documentary follows Sister Kate, the founder of the Sister of the Valley, an unorthodox order of nuns who grow and sell marijuana and medicinal cannabis. Sister Kate is not a real nun. She was formerly Christine Meeusen, who was once a corporate consultant whose job took her around the world. Then her bigamist conman husband left the family, taking all the money with him, leaving her to raise their three children. She reinvented herself as Sister Kate, a self-styled “anarchist, activist nun”, and took up growing cannabidiol cannabis, which can be used to treat cancer and other serious medical conditions. She was able to exploit a loophole in the state’s penal codes and established a multi-million dollar business. The success of the order though soon put them in the cross hairs of law enforcement agencies. But her illegal drug farm also attracted attention from the drug running criminals, which forced her to carry some serious firepower.

Sister Kate’s crusade puts her at odds with the law and much of the financially impoverished community of Merced, California, where she lives. The film does look into the complex and complicated question of legalised drug use and serves us a superficial exploration of the medicinal value of marijuana without any real depth. And in one scene a lay preacher actually questions them about whether they are really doing God’s work.

This inherently flawed documentary is the work of first-time feature documentary filmmaker Robert Ryan, whose previous work has been made for television. Some of the material is repetitive, and with a scattergun approach to the material there are large gaps in the narrative which leads to some confusion. There is plenty of home video footage of Kate and her family in happier times before she broke bad. We get a lot of information about her early life, but the film is objective and only scratches the surface of its complex subject matter.

Ryan has included interviews with her son Alex, himself a habitual marijuana user and not surprisingly a staunch supporter of her stance. There are also interviews with the local sheriff, a district attorney and a local bishop, all of whom give contrasting views on the issue of legalised drug use. Her former husband refused to be interviewed for the film.

Breaking Habits attempts to explore a controversial, provocative and timely issue, but in the end there seems to be a lot of unnecessary padding here that stretches out the running time. The material would be better served as a one-hour documentary rather than a feature length film.

★★

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