A somewhat haphazard affair, documentary maker Robert Ryan’s Breaking Habits is a slightly frustrating watch, yet nevertheless fascinating for its charismatic central figure in Sister Kate: a self-proclaimed anarchist-activist nun, founder of Sisters in the Valley, a medicinal cannabis facility run by a cult-like sisterhood of female recruits.
Following a painful backstory — her son describes the pair’s suicidal ideation and the bleak realisation they couldn’t even afford the pills for an overdose — the former “corporate girl” and Reagan voter found herself inspired by the Occupy movement, donning a wimple to protest in the streets alongside her newly discovered kinship. What began as a gimmick stuck as Christine Meeusen was laid to rest, the persona of Sister Kate created to pursue a strong belief in the healing power of cannabis whilst railing against the system in the less-than-approving city of Merced, California.
“When people have everything taken away, you should be scared, because they will do some radical shit.”
It is a curious persona, for sure. For instance, she states that she is on a sacred calling, but is emphatic that she will not be drawn into discussing religious beliefs, which raises the question of authenticity. Amusing references to Merced’s sheriff and other opponents as “haters” imply either naivety or a rock-star confidence in perhaps even herself as a product. Also, one wonders if this biodynamic farmer’s spiritualism was present in her corporate business days, or did her mentality morph gradually as life knocked her down? Indeed, is this spirituality genuine at all, or cynical, albeit charming marketing?
What is unfortunate is that a hotchpotch edit muddies the waters, leaving these and other questions hanging open. Breaking Habits veers naturally to human story, so the inclusion of some talking heads feel part of a different documentary altogether, while cursory looks at marijuana’s sociopolitical influence and its medical benefits are unnecessary. In fact, there’s something of a Channel 5 feel to this; a whimsical soundtrack in the opener gives way to a jaunty sound that feels patronising for such a resilient woman.
Breaking Habits is therefore an overall misfire, yet an interesting portrait of self-reliant defiance in the face of opposition from all sides.
Breaking Habits opens today
Naila Scargill is the publisher and editor of horror journal Exquisite Terror. Holding a broad editorial background, she has worked with an eclectic variety of content, ranging from film and the counterculture, to political news and finance.