Chloe and Theo, a new drama about climate change being released in theaters and through on-demand video this weekend, is a great film in a good film’s body. The story (loosely based on real events) is certainly moving and the performances are certainly strong, though the film does have a few notable weaknesses. Like The Day After Tomorrow (2004), the film is imperfect but important.
Theo Ikummaq plays Theo, an Arctic Inuit whose way of life is being destroyed by human-caused climate change. Theo is recruited by elders in his tribe to travel “South” (i.e. to New York) to deliver a message to the world’s leaders on the urgency of the climate crisis. Arriving in New York City, Theo befriends Chloe (Dakota Johnson), a young homeless woman who is drawn to his optimism and drive.
Chloe and her friends Mr. Sweet (Andre De Shields), Sancho (Eric Oram) and Tyler (Ashley Springer) come up with a plan to have Theo address the United Nations. The plan, as one might expect, doesn’t exactly go well, but the effort does catch the attention of a sympathetic lawyer (Mira Sorvino) who agrees to help Theo amplify his message—a message that could save lives.
Ikummaq, a real-life former Inuit hunter, delivers stellar work as the humble man who tries to wake the world up from its climate slumber. Johnson tries very hard, but like Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness, it’s profoundly difficult to buy her in this role; you never, ever forget that this an actor simply pretending to be a homeless person. De Shields, Oram and Springer deliver solid work. However, Sorvino dominates the second half of the film with an outstanding performance as the activist attorney; her work makes this film worth seeing.
Writer-director Ezna Sands’s screenplay is reminiscent of the Kevin Spacey-Helen Hunt film Pay It Forward (2000); that film was attacked for excessive sappiness, and perhaps this film will face similar attacks, but in both cases such criticisms are without merit. It is possible to overdo sentimentality, but Chloe and Theo doesn’t pound you over the head with schmaltz.
I wish the film had focused a bit more on the urgency of the climate crisis; for all of its flaws, The Day After Tomorrow did make the point that carbon pollution desperately needed to be addressed (remember how the George W. Bush administration freaked out over that film weeks before it was released?). The film does hint at the role consumerism plays in fueling the climate crisis, but no one will confuse Chloe and Theo with This Changes Everything. Beyond Johnson’s problematic performance, the film’s depiction of homelessness is, shall we say, somewhat less than comprehensive.
Yet the film is worth your while, due to the power of its overall message and the towering performances of Ikummaq and Sorvino. This film about the warming of our planet will be sure to warm your heart.
UPDATE: Mira Sorvino and producer Monica Ord were interviewed about Chloe and Theo on KTLA-TV in Los Angeles on August 28.