George Takei gets one of two haircuts in "To Be Takei." Credit: Starz Digital Media
‘To Be Takei’ Director: Jennifer M. Kroot Genre: Documentary Rating: NR 2 (out of 5) Globes
There’s a thin line between documentary profile and infomercial. Actually, there’s not, at least not in “To Be Takei,” which is essentially a well-researched, feature-length ad. Granted, it’s not selling anything, except for its subject — actor, Internet star and activist George Takei — as a brand. It’s overly-chummy, seriously disorganized and more seriously still padded-out.
Of course, there are worse things to be sold than George Takei. After assuming he’d spend his autumn years resting on his “Star Trek” laurels, the performer suddenly wound up bigger than any of his former castmates. A large part of that had to do with coming out and acknowledging he’d spent over 20 years with Brad, the man who would eventually become his husband. After decades hiding his true self, he emerged as an unfailingly good-humored, always chuckling, relentlessly goofy fighter of the good fight, who improbably found a way to battle homophobia without ever seeming preachy.
But that’s not all there is to him. Takei is also very involved in raising awareness about the Japanese internment camps of WWII, in which he spent part of his childhood. Pair that with spending most of his life concealing his sexual orientation, and Takei has more going on than his ever-smiling, always positive public persona would suggest.
George and Brad Takei are seen in one of many hangout scenes in the documentary "To Be Takei." Credit: Starz Digital Media
It’s not necessary for director Jennifer M. Kroot to pry deeper into someone who will only speak about his pain on his terms (including a number of montages that string together speeches he’s made about the camps, plus a musical on the subject he wishes to bring to Broadway). But she only accepts the version of Takei offered by Takei. He might as well have directed it — though perhaps he would have had a better sense of mashing the silly with the deeply emotional into a workable tone.
And surely almost anyone would do a better job structuring the doc, which keeps distractedly hopping around his timeline, returning again and again to the same subjects. It swells the running time with lengthy hang-out scenes with he and Brad (who’s a lot less comfortable being filmed than his husband), joins him at the barber shop (twice!) and delves into a bizarre and misjudged block of character assassination against William Shatner (who, for what it’s worth, seems like a jerk).
A couple of times it deviates from this, including what appears to be a more-than-vaguely creepy candid camera bit trailing the Takeis as Brad rips into George over what he considers a weak stage performance. But such moments of insight are rare, suggesting something that does more than cruise on its subject’s inexhaustible charm.