At its heart, Chloe and Theo is a movie about symbiotic relationships — friendships that encourage both parties to be better versions of themselves. But on the surface is the film’s all-too-clear message on climate change, and it all begins with Theo’s journey from Nunavut to New York.
After receiving orders from his village elders, Theo flies to the big apple. He is selected as the chosen one because he speaks English, the second language having been acquired during his time at a residential school.
The film takes various stances on humanitarian issues, but its view on the residential schools is left on the melting ice of the Arctic. Instead, Monica Ord and Ezna Sands (both newcomers to the film scene) set their focus on the future, and tell a would-be heartwarming tale with the hopes of inspiring the world out of their apathy and indifference.
To encourage this international goal, producer Ord and director-screenwriter Sands tell the story of an unlikely friendship forged between an Inuk man and a homeless New Yorker. While their friendship is sweet, and their fight for environmental salvation is worthwhile, their story does little to support the greater issues that the film tackles.
A scruffier and more blonde Dakota Johnson does her best to shake the leather tethers of Anastasia Steele as Chloe, but she doesn’t quite pull off the chip-on-her-shoulder street kid she portrays. Nor does the script combat the shallow character development, as it lamely supplies “I can’t remember” as Chloe’s reason for leaving home and braving the streets of Harlem.
Audiences are left with two characters unsure of why they’ve ended up in their current state, but who fight for their cause nonetheless.
That is precisely what this film has going for it. The storyline, however vapid, doesn’t detract from the film’s key objective: promoting action to tackle climate change. Chloe and Theo is part of Connect4Climate’s film branch, Film4Climate. The organization, which connects people from the media, academia, youth groups, civil society groups, and the private sector, sees film as pivotal in the fight for environmental protection. While this film broadly and overtly posits the environment as its concern, it also points subtly to the harsh living conditions of the Inuits living in northern Canada.
Theo Ikummaq, making his on screen debut, is from the Nunavut hamlet Igloolik. Climate change threatens the lives of the Inuit, and the film acknowledges this as Theo’s primary on-screen objective. But Igloolik is thriving in other ways, and is known as the cultural epicentre for the Inuit people. Previously known for Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, Igloolik can continue to boast of its cinematic talent. Indeed, Ikummaq’s subtlety and honesty provide the necessary subdued tone that the film otherwise lacks (and that Johnson never achieves) when discussing an issue of grave importance.
The film’s message is delivered with as much grace as a figure-skating hippo, but it’s hard to deny the validity of its cause. But is a film’s moral obligation strong enough to withstand the weight of mediocre storytelling and subpar acting? Maybe Theo’s northern tale was enough to inspire change, and all the attempted Hollywood flourish could have been left out west, ready to distract us another time.