Sister Helen Movie Review
This documentary dutifully tracks Helen Travis's later years as she operates the shelter, a grim building on a desolate corner of the city. Her frequent run-ins with the residents as she enforces curfews and demands urine samples are colorful ("When I say piss, you piss!"), but you'll probably get the picture after about 20 minutes. Spend much longer with Travis and you'll probably start to feel she's being made fun of a little, like a live flesh version of one of those punching nun hand puppets. That's not far from the truth: Helen is world-weary and streetwise, and before long we get it, that tough love is the only way to get crackheads and junkies to clean up their act.
One interesting, if sad, aspect of the film is that it tracks Travis all the way through her death, so even though there are plenty of extras on the new DVD, don't expect a reunion with Travis to discuss "what happened next." (Her shelter continues to operate under the care of her daughter, some of the junkies are clean, some aren't.) And there you have it: One nun, one tenemant building, and one incredibly aggressive management style. She's got one big lesson to share with us (love hurts), but deeper meaning is a little trickier to find.