It’s a story that sounds too bizarre to be real: a successful business woman transforms her life after her marriage of seventeen years is suddenly brought to an end. In a bid to rebuild her life, she turns to growing marijuana, and in turn creates a medical-marijuana business that operates under the name ‘Sisters of the Valley’. Once known as Christine, and now reborn as Sister Kate, this is a story about a woman who puts herself up against the world in a bid to help those in need.
First things first, Breaking Habits is an entertaining, VICE media-esque documentary that is full of social conscious ideology that’s powered by an off-kilter narrative. Sure, scenes are constantly presented with an overpowering score by Carmen Montanez Callan that dictates how you’re supposed to feel about the situation, but it’s hard not to get swept up in the perceived social justice of Sister Kate and her cohorts as they ‘damn the man’ and attempt to subvert the institution. There are countless shots of Sister Kate standing strong against a sun drenched background, only matched by the amount of drone shots of the group of Sisters driving in their vintage car.
The imagery is great, with every frame being suitable poster material and ideal at reinforcing the message of Breaking Habits – namely, one of a person who has chosen to use the image of being a Nun, and apply that to her self-created sisterhood in a bid to help create a cannabis-driven utopia. It’s here that director Robert Ryan buries the lede in a slightly frustrating manner. It’s hard to shake the feeling that he, along with Sister Kate, are so enamoured by the imagery of a Nun-like figure peddling cannabis that they delay the unveiling of the fact that Sister Kate is not associated with religion in any form until about ¾’s of the way through the film.
Thanks to muddled editing by Alec Rossiter, Breaking Habits takes an unwelcome scattershot at Sister Kate’s life, working too hard to create villains out of the local police force, and to turn Sister Kate into a gun-toting, drug running deity. After establishing Sister Kate’s pre-marijuana life, Breaking Habits jumps back and forth between her established Sisters of the Valley life and the path that she took to creating the Sisterhood. This leads to confusing points where she’s retelling the story about defending a plantation with her hired security from intruders, all the while fending them off with guns. It makes for a colourful story, but it’s clear that Robert Ryan is completely on board with his subject, rather than ever properly assessing whether her actions are right or wrong.
The police are given enough time to state their case, but it’s so often delivered and edited in a way that suggests that there is more to their story that has been left out of the picture. What is in the film suggests that the police are little more than anti-fun-police who want to stomp down on anyone with a marijuana plant and to eradicate all existence of the drug in the county. But, on the fringes, you can tell that they’re merely sticking to the rules. But, a hero needs a villain, and there’s no easier villain for a drug running Sister than the fuzz, so here we are.
It’s rare for Sister Kate to actually have her image interrogated, with one lone moment having the Sisters of the Valley being questioned by a pastor, asking whether she believes that she’s presenting a misleading image by utilising a habit as their choice of garb. While Sister Kate does not feel she is being misleading, it’s another thing altogether to lean so heavily on the imagery, creating the unmistakeable feeling that the habit is more of a marketing ploy than an actual moral aesthetic choice that goes alongside medicinal-marijuana and living a pure life. Breaking Habits would be better serviced if the star subject were not given an untethered leeway that allows her to come across as an unquestionable icon. Especially when it comes to revelations about her son and his relationship with drugs, which put Sister Kate’s venture into a whole new light that would have allowed for a more interesting narrative if they were interrogated more.
This is not to say that Breaking Habits isn’t worth a watch, as it’s certainly entertaining in the moment, with it being awfully easy to become swept up in Sister Kate’s energy. After all, under the manufactured sheen is a progressive message that at its core that is genuinely inspiring. The medicinal and therapeutic nature of marijuana is undeniable, and it’s here that I side with Sister Kate’s use of a habit to create a social media-shareable image that gets people talking. The concept of a dope smoking habit wearing ‘Sister’ is attention grabbing, much in the same way that the notion of a science teacher turned meth-maker was for Breaking Bad. While Breaking Habits clearly wears its inspirations on its sleeve, it does so with pure intentions.
Sure, the police are given a bad rap here, and the world of marijuana in America is left a little bit muddled at the end, but if Breaking Habits can reinforce the usefulness of marijuana, then maybe that’s enough to make it worthwhile.
Director: Robert Ryan
Featuring: Sister Kate