Pro and Con (re)views: A Cli-Fi Com and a Cli-Fi Down -- And Then Your POV?
There’s a new movie in town now and it’s called Chloe and Theo.
The co-star is an Inuit man from Canada named Theo Ikummaq who plays himself in the climate-themed flick, and it’s not an Al Gore documentary. No, it’s pure a cli-fi feature film. Fiction. A scripted ”story.” Entertainment.
I myself haven’t seen the movie yet, just a the trailer on YouTube, but if the teaser scenes give its true drift, you might also want to check out this film when it opens. I know I will. First, some background. See the trailer here, too.
Take an engaging and photogenic man from Canada and put him a United Nations comedy that aims to serve as a warning flare about the possible impacts of global warming in the far north, and you may have a winner by Hollywood standards.
Dakota Johnson [“Fifty Shades of Grey”] co-stars as a young woman who wants to help him, and her presence may attract younger fans. And Mira Sorvino plays a major role too.
It’s a serious movie, with a cli-fi theme and cli-fi message, but it’s also being billed as a comedy.. The film’s producer, Monica Ord, says there is some heavy dialogue, some good comic lines, and it’s a tear-jerker that will not only touch viewers’ hearts but may goad some of them into action on climate issues.
At a recent screening of the movie at a World Bank function in Washington, Marty Katz, the Canadian founder and president of Prospero Pictures, participated in a panel discussion about the power of cinema to connect with people over serious issues.
”Can film be an agent for social change? Can the arts be an agent for social change? Can anything but the arts be an agent for social change?” the film maven asked rhetorically. “I can’t think of how to change people’s perception or behavior except for the arts. That’s why governments who don’t want people’s behavior to be changed censor the arts.”
“I think that film can be a catalyst for those who can be social agents who can affect change in the world and I think that’s a great thing,” he added.
Later, Katz tweeted a 140-character quote, and I saw it on his Twitter feed:
“You need the big story that comes from films. Then you need to give tools to people to make them able to make a change” #TakeOn — @Connect4Climate
Like the HBO TV hit Games of Thrones, the movie Chloe and Theo is the latest in an expanding genre of films, novels and TV shows that touch on the genre of climate-change fiction, or “cli-fi.”
While climate change can be a scary and overwhelmingly difficult topic that people want to avoid, storytelling in movies like Chloe and Theo can bring the harsh realities of climate change home to world audiences — and world leaders.
Climate change is a deeply important issue. It has been for decades, but the rhetoric surrounding the crisis has ramped to a fever pitch in recent years. And while politicians and anyone else with a platform have continually simplified the complexity of the situation, very few have continued to dumb it down to the levels of the new “cli-fi” debacle “Chloe And Theo.”
Theo Ikummaq (played by Ikummaq himself) is an Inuit from the arctic sent on a mission by his elders: he is to travel to “The South” and warn those in power to change their ways before the sun melts the polar caps and burns up the planet. Brandishing a fanny pack full of money and no understanding at all of what a country is or where he should be headed, Theo somehow finds himself in New York City. Preferring to “use his legs,” Theo walks from the airport to Manhattan and his dumpy extended stay room, overwhelmed already, but steadfast.
The next day, Theo meets Chloe (“Fifty Shades of Grey” star Dakota Johnson, whose name alone appears to have deemed the film worthy of release), a homeless girl, who — seeming to know every other homeless person in New York — saves him from being mugged. Asked why she helped him, she can only say that he looks “innocent,” which marks about the most thoughtful moment of the film. Chloe then brings Theo back to what can only be called her apartment (complete with a secret entrance, electricity, a firepit, and a TV, all of which set the film at an extreme remove from the reality of homelessness in New York).
Once there Theo tells Chloe his plan and she immediately agrees to help. Cue several montages, including the team-builder where Chloe rounds up her crew of homeless advocates (Andre De Shields, Ashley Springer, Eric Oram) to help them prepare.
Eventually, the pair set their sights on the United Nations headquarters and agree to their plan (unknown as it may be to us) and walk right through the front door, only to be arrested and interrogated like enemies of the state. And while most everything to this point exists in a sort of convoluted fantasy, things only grow more removed and vapid in the final third.
From start to finish, the problems are myriad. One of the most painful is that Theo himself is numbingly dull. Clearly Ikummaq is an interesting and passionate man of conviction, endowed with an admirable innocence. But Theo is handled all wrong. In his flashbacks he is quick-witted and sharply funny, but for the rest of the film when he is not reciting the same lines about saving the planet, he stands idly by, a dummy for the script’s “Look, he’s an Eskimo” jokes.
And it’s because of this that “Chloe And Theo” was bound to fail. The script by writer/director Ezna Sands goes nowhere. More often than not the characters walk into a room and get what they want and gain allies. And when they don’t, a miracle quickly falls into their laps and they are saved. On the directing side, Sands is competent enough; the actors take what little is given them, Johnson especially, and bring, at the very least, energy to the roles.
The true failing of the “Chloe And Theo” though, is its blatant insensitivity. In wanting so badly to create an earnest and inspiring film that would (somehow) end global warming, Sands and co. succeeded only in thoroughly degrading Ikummaq (he learned what penguins are from books, but has no concept of a president?), turning the homeless of New York into a merry bunch of rascals living happily in their spacious apartments and feasting on free pizza, and dumbing global warming into an issue of, “Oh, well since you asked, we’ll just cut it out.”
The hope left then, is that the intentions were pure. Surely, at some point “Chloe And Theo” had substance and depth and made a bit more narrative sense (the thing appears to have been hacked from 112 minutes down to a brief 81 minute runtime complete with two voiceovers), but the result here is painful. “Chloe And Theo” should have been a film about Theo: a complex man taking on an unfamiliar world he is not particularly fond of, with little more than conviction and principle to help him along. Instead, we get another film where a hapless foreigner teaches white people how to better themselves.
Serious issues (and yes, all three of these issues — cultural ignorance/misrepresentation, homelessness, and global warming — are huge issues) deserve films and filmmakers with subtly and a thoughtful approach, not hackneyed feel-good charmers that are neither charming nor feel-good. GRADE: [D]