Breaking Habits

From the Woody Harrelson-narrated Grass to Doug Benson’s take on Morgan Spurlock’s “social experiment” Super Size Me, titled Super High Me, and the recent Netflix-produced Grass Is Greener, countless documentaries have been made about marijuana. Some have focused primarily on the issues of federal regulations and the cannabis advocates fighting for the legalization of the plant, while others delved deep into its mind-altering, potentially healing and spiritual qualities. Rob Ryan’s Breaking Habits does a little bit of both, neither one effectively, bringing little to the increasingly-derivative subgenre. The premise revolving around his subject – a shotgun-wielding, pot-growing nun – is relatively compelling, but otherwise, it’s “been there, seen that” stuff, awkwardly pieced together and presented in an uninspired fashion.

Born and raised in Wisconsin, the “self-declared, self-empowered anarchist” Sister Kate (formerly Christine) has always been the “breadwinner of the family” and a role model for her three little kids, who were raised by her stay-at-home husband, Gary. When Christine’s job takes her family to Amsterdam for a decade, the seemingly-kindhearted Gary steals all her money, leaving her and the kids stranded.

“The premise revolves around his subject – a shotgun-wielding, pot-growing nun…”

Traumatized by the betrayal after a 17-year marriage and the ongoing litigation nightmare, she moves in with her skeevy brother in Merced County, California. That’s where the seed is planted (see what I did there?), Christine adopting her alias and “dreaming of forming a sisterhood that could heal the people” with marijuana, while also providing them with jobs. She agrees to start the business under certain conditions: “it had to be legal, [they] would pay all taxes, [they] would only supply cannabis to sick people and there’d be no black-market deals.”

Obstacles arise: her brother ends up being a dick and kicking her out; her teenage son Alex segues into meth; local Sheriff Warnke waxes poetic about cannabis being a “nationwide epidemic;” Kate’s RV is riddled with bullets; radicals like Bishop Ron Allen – President of the International Faith Based Coalition Fighting Cannabis (what a mouthful!) – preach about marijuana addiction ruining people’s lives; and so on.

Yet Kate persists, forming her desired sisterhood, talking to defense attorneys, hiring lobbyists and “reaching out to doctors for clients”, all the while guarding her crops with an artillery of guns. In the meantime, the difference between THC and CBD is speedily explained; teary-eyed joy by her sisters about the divine effects of marijuana is spread, and the often-shirtless Alex talks a lot while smoking a lot of weed.

“Her heart is in the right place, and she’s certainly been scarred, but her methods are questionable…”

There’s no doubt that Sister Kate is a controversial figure. Her heart is in the right place, and she’s certainly been scarred, but her methods are questionable: she openly discusses the option of suicide with her son, and has no issue whatsoever with shooting at folks that pull out her weed, generally endangering the livelihood of her son (whom she calls a “nut-bag” when the film deals with his meth days) and coworkers. Kate’s daughter seems to be the only sensible one, concerned about and embarrassed of her mother’s habits (“I never invited my friends over”).

Apart from the sight of a bunch of pseudo-nuns sitting around a table trimming weed – and a bandanna-masked basked in-shadow individual called “The Nightgrower” – there’s not much in Rob Ryan’s doc that’s particularly distinctive. It’s all stuff we’ve seen before, from egomaniacal sheriffs mercilessly raiding a plant farm to the briefly skimmed-over process of making CBD products. A few intermittent sequences touch upon Sister Kate’s connection to faith, but it’s never really scrutinized, therefore rendering the whole “nunnery” thing that much sillier.

Breaking Habit doesn’t allow its momentum to accumulate, not does it cohere, aggravatingly lurching from Sister Kate’s tragic backstory to her son’s bare-chested wanderings/wonderings to the federal government’s war on drugs to a stylized portrayal of gun-wielding nuns – all the while somehow remaining dull. Worst of all, with marijuana becoming progressively common every year, it feels a decade too late. An unnecessary addition to the middling pantheon of pot flicks, Breaking Habits, like mid-grade schwag, is unlikely to get you buzzed.

Breaking Habits (2019) Written and Directed by Rob Ryan. Featuring Sister Kate, Sister Freya, Sheriff Warnke, John Garcia, Bishop Ron Allen.

5 out of 10

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