'Breaking Habits': Film Review
Robert Ryan's documentary tells the story of self-styled nun and medical marijuana propietor Sister Kate.
It used to seem like everyone on the planet was auditioning to become the star of their own reality television show. Now that feature-length documentaries have experienced a theatrical renaissance, it looks like everyone instead wants to be the subject of one, presumably so they can attend the Oscars. Breaking Habits, Robert Ryan's film about "Sister Kate," the habit-wearing founder of a medical marijuana company, proves yet another dispiriting entry in the current documentary glut that embraces all things quirky. Even its title referencing the hit television drama starring Bryan Cranston seems tacky.
Sister Kate is actually Christine Meeusen, formerly the Ronald Reagan-voting owner of a successful communications business, who was happily married to the father of her three children. Unfortunately, her husband turned out to be a polygamist and con artist who managed to steal all her money. How he avoided prosecution for the crime is but one of many subjects not touched on in the film's sketchy proceedings.
Meeusen started a new life in the financially impoverished town of Merced, California, where she was briefly homeless after a falling out with her brother. Taking advantage of the state's legalization of medical marijuana, she eventually started a company selling a medicinal salve containing CBD (cannabidiol). The business was a fast-growing success, especially when Meeusen rebranded herself as "Sister Kate" and began wearing a nun's habit despite having no religious affiliation. She describes herself as an "anarchist, activist nun," and her company, dubbed Sisters of the Valley, employs women wearing similar garb. It seems as much a cult as a business.
Of course, raising and selling marijuana, even of the medical variety, is not without its complications. A gang of thieves attempted to rob her and liberate her of both cash and product, resulting in a gun battle. There was no shortage of local opposition; the film includes interviews with such figures including a stridently anti-marijuana sheriff wearing a ten-gallon hat and a fire-breathing pastor who bellows about marijuana users, "If you continue going down this road of destruction, it will cost you your very soul!" Sister Kate's son became addicted to meth, underwent rehab and promptly relapsed. She apparently solved the problem by putting him on a strict all-you-can-smoke marijuana regimen.
The story is a potentially interesting one, but it's told here in such scattershot, disjointed fashion that one can barely follow it. Even when it is comprehensible, it almost has the feel of parody, especially in the interviews with Sister Kate's antagonists who seem to be auditioning for a Reefer Madness sequel.
Breaking Habits mainly comes across like a feature-length infomercial, complete with a handy demonstration of the cooking process involved in separating legal CBD from the not-so-legal THC to create the Sisters of the Valley's products. Sister Kate herself seems the sort of lovably kooky character who could be played by Susan Sarandon in the Hollywood movie version.
The story culminates with a local hearing, unfortunately closed to the cameras, determining whether Sister Kate will be allowed to maintain her business which she estimates will be worth $5 million. She maintains throughout the doc that her company provides both jobs and charitable contributions to the impoverished community, so viewers will earn no points for guessing that the film's ending is a happy one.
Production company: Salon Pictures
Distributor: Good Deed Entertainment
Director-screenwriter: Robert Ryan
Producers: Nick Taussig, Paul Van Carter
Executive producers: Ian Berg, Christopher Reynolds
Director of photography: Mikul Eriksson
Editors: Tom Meadmore, Alec Rossiter
Composer: Jake Walker