From the earnest and environmentally righteous story to the profanity re-dubbed into “friggin’,” “Chloe and Theo” feels like Dakota Johnson’s atonement for the meretricious slime that was “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
Sure, this indie fish-out-of-water dramedy about an Inuit (Eskimo) in New York was almost certain filmed before Johnson’s “big break.” The film was originally titled “Theo,” named for its Inuit hero. But that changed and Johnson’s voice took over the narration, and her face became the one we see on the poster after the groping/grappling of “Grey.”
Theo Ikummaq is an Inuit hunter summoned by his tribal elders to carry a message “to the Southerners.”
Since they live above the Arctic Circle, everybody is a Southerner to them.
Warn them that the ice is melting, that walrus hunting is getting too difficult. “Tell the elders” there about their dream. A boiling sun devours their ancestral home in that nightmare.
Theo was “educated by the Southerners,” he speaks their language and has some clue about their ways. They put him on a plane and he heads for New York.
Chloe is one of the first people he meets. After he’s mistakenly emptied the donations hat of a street mime. She’s a homeless hustler, a petty thief and grubby urchin in fishnet stockings. She’ll help him — for a price. You want elders? She takes him to a retirement home.
“They look like prisoners,” he protests.
Her crazed roommate Tyler (Ashley Springer) and streetwise pal Mr. Sweets (Andre De Shields) pitch in. That brain trust is the one that could get him to the U.N., to speak to “all the elders” of the peoples of the South.
Writer-director Ezna Sands (“Tontine”) has no surprises up his fur-covered sleeves, here. The tundra footage is pretty, the Quixotic “warning” story covers every base you’d expect — Youtube viral video plays a part.
Ikummaq is natural on camera, if not terribly charismatic. The most emotional, or at least lively scenes involve the supporting players. Oscar winner Mira Sorvino is an empathetic U.N. official, for instance.
Johnson, an actress whose “real” big break was genetic (her parents are Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson), dirties up and dresses down, playing a runaway with a hint of rage beneath her stringy/dirty blonde locks.
“It’s time for a REVOLUTION!” she fumes.
“No, it ain’t,” says the pragmatic Mr. Sweets.
And while one can applaud the effort to recut this to give “Chloe and Theo” a decent shot at commercial appeal, the brief movie that they whittled this down to is neither cautionary nor hopeful, a feel-good film with a perfunctory, bitter and misguided aftertaste.
Cast: Theo Ikummaq, Dakota Johnson, Mira Sorvino, Andre De Shields
Credits: Directed by Max Joseph, script by Max Joseph, Meaghan Oppenheimer and Richard Silverman. An Alchemy release.
Running time: 1:21