SISTER HELEN

3.5 Stars
Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 90 minutes
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She’s dedicated her life to helping lost souls in the South Bronx, and she does so with an iron fist. She’s free of drugs and booze, but she knows where all the crack houses are in town. Her body and soul belong to God, but she swears like a salty old pirate. She’s Sister Helen and if a houseful of disobedient drug addicts can’t bring her down, nothing will.
Sounds like the teaser for a TGIF sitcom, doesn’t it? Thankfully, for my own well-being, it’s not. Hello! Instead, this film is a documentary focusing on Sister Helen Travis who, after seeing both of her sons and husband meet early deaths, decides to give herself to the Lord and does his work by opening a 23-room halfway house in the South Bronx for drug and alcohol addicted males, who are trying to get clean. They get this help, which includes food and shelter, only if they keep up with their rent, obey strict curfews and remain drug and alcohol free. And God help you if any of the rules are broken, because that means somebody is going to incur the wrath of Sister Helen, which finds many of these guys back out on the street with Crack Pipe Willy and his gang, leaving an open space for somebody else at Travis House who might be worthy of her time and care.
But as much as her mission is fueled by her heart of gold, once you hear Sister Helen Travis speak, you may be reminded of Sister Mary Elephant. She’ll tell you to go fuck yourself if you give her any shit, especially if you happen to speak while Frank Sinatra is playing somewhere in the room. Do right by Sister Helen and she won’t kick you in the ass and turn your ears into the restroom at a biker bar.
Sister Helen’s methods are illustrated in this film through her interaction with a few of her tenants, who agreed to be filmed, some of them obeying the rules of the house better than others, but all of them showing utter gratitude towards her help and guidance, even if they do fall off the wagon here and there. This is also where we’re shown Sister Helen to be a big softy, despite her wicked mouth. Ashish, one of her tenants, relapses a few times during the film, but Sister Helen takes him back every time, a rash of shit comes along with the open door to be sure, but she knows how tough the environment their living in is, it killed part of her family, so she won’t give up so easily on a guy who just can’t stop drinking.
Now that this film is getting a limited theatrical release, I see one of the studios getting the big idea to turn this captivating story into a mega-ego soaked Hollywood turd. Hello! See the true story of Sister Helen and her band of weary men now.



Posted on October 26, 2003 in Reviews by
Buffer


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