How do you break a habit? Summon the courage to claw your life back from homelessness, meth addiction, and betrayal? Convince a rigid county to re-think its long-held marijuana regulations? What does it look like to stare inevitability down and blow smoke in its face?
For Sister Kate, going against the grain was never an option. It was a survival strategy. In a former life, she was Christine Meeusen, a Ronald Reagan-voting corporate girl with a penchant for business and a jet-setting lifestyle to match. She had a perfect life. And it all unraveled when she was cheated by her embezzling, polygamist husband of 17 years. Penniless, Christine fled with her three young children to her brother’s in Merced, the second poorest county in the state of California.
She began to grow weed to pay the bills. And she was really good at it. Entering the weed business wasn’t the safest choice, but it was her calling. Dealing in the green stuff would lead to her being shot at, betrayed (again), and abandoned by her family. But, to paraphrase the good Sister, people who’ve lost everything are to be feared, because “they’re going to do some radical shit.”
Determined to carve out a life for herself on her own terms, Christine renamed herself Sister Kate and founded her empire, the Sisters of the Valley: a group of self-declared, self-empowered, anarchist, activist, weed-growing sisters. Their work would follow the moon cycles and the federal and local legislation and produce low-THC, high-CBD cannabis. Her goal was to challenge Merced’s restrictive medical marijuana regulations, to ease suffering, help the sick and the dying, and create jobs for her community.
Every other superhero origin story can go home.
Breaking Habits, a feature documentary about Sister Kate, succeeds in putting a face and a story to the folks fighting to change the inhibitory and arguably harmful regulation of pot. It triumphs in demonstrating how criminalization puts law-abiding business owners at risk and points the finger at myopic lawmakers for enabling a dangerous, gun-toting black market.
Between Sister Kate’s twangy narration and her tenacious refusal to go quietly, Breaking Habits recalls (the best parts) of Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya by way of Netflix’s Murder Mountain. We spend most of our time basking in the warm shadow of Sister Kate’s ever-present glass of chardonnay and pay the occasional visit to her allies: her children, her posse of suits, and her fellow sisters. We also spend ample time with her detractors, most memorably the local sheriff, a Yosemite Sam type who has clearly seen 1936’s Reefer Madness one too many times.
A voice for her community, Sister Kate is a fighting nun through and through; a sympathetic, contagiously inspirational, and wildly compelling subject. Naturally, her fight is compelling, too: as long as the federal government continues to criminalize and stigmatize pot, it’ll never just be pot. And that has consequences. That writer/director Robert Ryan tackles this fact with empathy, grit, and humor makes Breaking Habits a joy to watch.
Breaking Habits opens in limited release on April 19th. I am required by law to remind you that is one day shy of 4/20.