Chloe & Theo seems to have its heart in the right place, though it does nothing more than present yet one more example of how white people can save a poor, helpless Other from his or her own ignorance, in the process demonstrating that it has no conscious idea of how the world actually works though it’s attempting to raise social awareness over some admittedly obvious issues. Chloe & Theo, in other words, fumbles every aspect of its moral play in frighteningly embarrassing ways.
Meet the eponymous Theo, played by Theo Ikummaq, a Canadian Arctic Inuit portraying a fictionalized version of himself. Theo travels to New York after his elders warn him of the Legend of the Angry Sun, wherein the consumerism and selfishness of people south of the Arctic causes the Sun to rage out and destroy everything it deems unworthy of its tenuous, life-giving power. Theo’s purpose, then, is to meet with “our elders” to explain the dangers that await those outside of Inuit society who refuse to change their ways. Of course, Theo has no idea how to find said “elders,” though he meets homeless Chloe (Dakota Johnson), who, along with her ragtag group of street urchins, try to help Theo spread his enlightening message of the impending threat of global warming. Because, you see, Chloe & Theo exists in a universe where no one has ever heard of global warming, so much so that Theo’s revelations come as a surprise to everyone.
For much of the film, Theo does little more than explain his story over and over again, occasionally taking a break to correct passersby—all of whom immediately comment on how he is an Eskimo—that he is actually an Arctic Inuit, accompanied by Johnson, who delivers a thoroughly tonally confused performance enriched by the layer of “dirt” over her makeup, which of course insists that she is in fact homeless. And really, let’s be honest: Theo siding with this homeless group only hurts his cause, making him look certifiably crazy preaching on the side of the road. One of his companions, the sensibly named Mr. Sweet (Andre De Shields), suggests that Theo present his ideas to the U.N. The group decides to head there as an army of homeless compatriots, which inevitably gets them all arrested. Great idea, Mr. Sweet.
Moments like this offer plenty of evidence that Chloe & Theo has no idea what it is, or what it wants to be, or what it’s even trying to say besides whatever it is Theo thinks he’s trying to say. Comedic moments are stilted and stupid; dramatic moments are unintentionally hilarious. Rarely do any two ideas or scenes make any sense together, especially near the end of the film when Theo’s sacrifice for the world’s safety literally comes out of nowhere and his sole enjoyment of “our” world becomes part of his downfall. Chloe & Theo’s point, in this moment, seems to be that any consumerism at all is evil, and could lead to the destruction predicted by the Legend of the Angry Sun.
Writer-director Ezna Sands occasionally attempts to inject some heavy-handed beauty into this dreck by loading gorgeous imagery of the Arctic into our guilty brains or by throwing in crude animation to present the elders’ vision. But what it really does is assume that we’re too stupid to recognize even the most remotely subtle ideas: His choice to have Theo and Chloe narrate the events that we’re currently watching—without offering any new information we can’t gather on our own—only drives home the fact that Chloe & Theo presents an evident message in the most inane, laughable, idiotic way, eventually characterizing its lead as a joke rather than a hero—which probably wasn’t his intention. But who knows, really? Because he actually has a character say, “Wow that’s a deep message.”
Oh, Mira Sorvino is also in this. Remember when she won an Oscar?
Director: Ezna Sands
Writer: Ezna Sands
Starring: Theo Ikummaq, Dakota Johnson, Mira Sorvino, Andre De Shields, Ashley Springs
Release Date: September 4, 2015 (limited)
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.