The first feature film by writer/director Robert Ryan, Breaking Habits is a documentary that revolves around Sister Kate and her unconventional covenant of nuns known as Sisters of the Valley, a group of self-proclaimed activist nuns who grow and sell their own marijuana products for medicinal purposes in California. Delving into Kate’s troubled past leading to how she became embroiled in the weed industry, alongside examining the complexities and prejudices surrounding legalisation laws in the state, there is a lot to unpack from Ryan’s debut film. Unfortunately, due a lack of cohesive narrative structure and failure to adequately frame the discourse around cannabis legalisation, Breaking Habits is unable to live up to the full potential of its radical subject matter.
Although the film may present itself to be about the Sisters’ collective fight for legalisation, the documentary is really about Kate. From the opening sequences dedicated to exploring the mounting family problems that steered her to her current position, getting caught up in shootouts protecting her crop and the battle with her son’s drug addiction, this is very much the story of one remarkable woman doing what needs to be done to spur the changes she believes are needed. As a consequence of putting her in the spotlight, the rest of the group, and even most of the origins of their existence and day-to-day lives, are cast aside essentially rendering them an afterthought in a project about them.
Part of the reason for this is down to a messy structure that fails to tie events neatly together. After initially establishing a timeline chronicling Kate’s lifechanging event, chronology is soon thrown out the window in exchange for a series of anecdotal tales and interviews with figures – some of whom are irrelevant to the plotline – in an attempt to portray the social stigma and dangers associated with the Sisters’ actions. Moreover the filmmaker fails to adequately explain or articulate the discourses being debated here. Scientific jargon and legal terms are thrown at viewers with little-to-no explanation so that events become trickier to follow and the sides of the debate amount to no more than marijuana being either beneficial or pure evil.
Breaking Habits presents an intriguing premise that will surely relight the debate on legislation. With plenty of substance but lack of style and cohesion, Ryan’s documentary is an interesting if underwhelming watch.
Breaking Habits is released in select cinemas and on Digital HD on 26th April 2019.
Watch the trailer for Breaking Habits here: