‘To Be Takei’ Review: O Captain! My Captain!
There are hard-hitting, explosive documentaries that reveal shocking truths about the world we live in. And then there’s To Be Takei, a sweet little biography of a sweet old man whose acting career, public activism and winning personality made him a well-liked celebrity. The worst To Be Takei can even think to reveal about its subject is that sometimes George Takei makes inconsiderate remarks about the weight of his friends. I think even Wil Wheaton, who seems to bear the brunt of Takei’s rudeness, will probably get over it eventually.
So it’s not an in-your-face documentary. But director Jennifer M. Kroot at least makes time to illustrate the serious dramas of Takei’s life and. Although adorable banter between George Takei and his husband Brad make up large swaths of the film, which paints their marriage as idyllic and only slightly bickersome, his past also includes decades of homosexual closeting and the misery of the World War II internment camps. Using footage of various public talks Takei has given about his experiences, Kroot manages to discuss the history of one of 20th Century America’s most shameful chapters in a manner that seems touching and – if only because it focuses entirely on Takei’s personal experience – reasonably complete. It’s not a four-hanky movie, but you may still want to call your parents afterwards and tell them you love them.
And for those who only care about one thing, George Takei’s “Star Trek” co-stars do all appear; even William Shatner, whose relationship with Takei has been famously rocky. Takei gives Shatner a fair amount of smack for blowing off his wedding, a monumental occasion by anyone’s standards, and Shatner diplomatically, if a little icily, explains that he and Takei were work acquaintances and that it felt disingenuous for him to show up. Not good politics perhaps, but for a film that clearly sides with George Takei on every single issue, it’s laudable that at least they gave Shatner a chance to make his case.
George Takei’s ascent to pop culture stardom began early, as one of the more positively portrayed actors of Asian descent on film and television, and that influence is explored, but his gay rights activism takes up way more time in To Be Takei. Since he finally came out of the closet in 2005 he’s been in the public spotlight as a playful but dedicated champion of equal rights. Takei seems a little uncomfortable about how long it took him to tell the world about his sexual orientation, and some of the other interview subjects vocally wish he’d come out sooner too, but To Be Takei does portray him as a man eager to make up for lost time, workaholically campaigning for marriage equality and even correcting his husband’s outdated terminology as they scatter his mother’s ashes. (There’s a time and a place for everything, George. Come on.)
It’s always a little difficult to say whether or not a documentary is “good” if you don’t have any knowledge about the subject going into it. I admired George Takei’s work on “Star Trek” and find his Twitter feed very amusing, but I didn’t know much about his life before, and now I know only what To Be Takei has told me. It seems reasonable enough. It seems rather fair. It comes across as though the filmmakers like George Takei a lot and their enthusiasm is certainly infectious. I had a good time spending an hour-and-a-half with this charming man and listening to his many stories. If you don’t know George Takei, and you will never be asked to come over to his house for tea and a pleasant conversation, then To Be Takei is probably the next best thing.