Rob Fruchtman

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Sister Helen Review


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If you think all nuns are silent-vowed, virginal do-gooders like Mother Theresa, think again. Here comes Sister Helen, a foul-mouthed widow in New York City who stands toe to toe with druggies and alcoholics as she runs a shelter for men trying to get clean.

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.

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