Review: ‘To Be Takei’ has George Takei’s charm and a lot of padding

George Takei gets one of two haircuts in "To Be Takei." Credit: Starz Digital Media
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
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.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


Gunther from 'Friends' talks Central Perk

We spoke with Gunther (James Michael Tyler) at the preview for new pop-up Central Perk, based on the cafe in "Friends."


Central Perk opens in SoHo

Central Perk, of "Friends" fame, is giving out free coffee in SoHo through Oct. 18.


Beer sponsor Anheuser-Busch reproaches NFL over domestic abuse

Anheuser-Busch chastised the NFL for its handling of domestic violence cases, making it the first major advertiser to put pressure on the league.


Sen. Krueger dishes on prospect of legal marijuana…

New Yorkers may see the legalization of recreational marijuana use as early as 2015 if State Senator Liz Krueger (D) gets her way. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act will…


FREEMAN makes Freeman a free man from Ween

For nearly 30 years, Aaron Freeman was known endearingly to his listeners as Gene Ween. But with "FREEMAN," he makes it clear that he's gone somewhere else.


'Outlander' recap: Season 1, Episode 6: 'The Garrison…

Whipping, punching, kicking and a marriage contract. "Outlander" is not for the faint of heart this week with "The Garrison Commander."

The Word

The Word: Hey girl, it's a girl for…

It's a girl for Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes, who reportedly welcomed a daughter last Friday, according to Us Weekly. The super-private couple managed to…


TV watch list, Tuesday, Sept. 16: 'New Girl,'…

Check out the season premiere of "New Girl," as Jess competes with Jessica Biel for a guy's attentions.


5 top contenders for NL Rookie of the…

The outing rekindled award talk for deGrom, who appears to hold the top spot for NL Rookie of the Year honors. Metro breaks down a few other contenders.


College football Top 25 poll (AP rankings)

College football Top 25 poll (AP rankings)


Tom Coughlin says Giants 'beat themselves' against Cardinals

Head coach Tom Coughlin, who had a day to cool off and reflect, still sounded like he had a gnawing feeling in his gut.


Marty Mornhinweg accepts blame for Jets timeout fiasco

Jets fans looking for a scapegoat for Sunday’s timeout fiasco found a willing party on Monday: Marty Mornhinweg.


Rachel Zoe: New York Fashion Week Spring 15

Rachel Zoe goes 'Glam bohemia' for Spring.


Where to find SweeTango apples

Introduced in 2009, SweeTango — a hybrid of Honeycrisp and Zestar — is a sweet apple with plenty of crunch.


London Fashion Week recap

London Fashion week gets in on the action with politics, heritage and summertime living.


Padma Lakshmi's recipe for green mango curry

Padma Lakshmi shares her recipe for green mango curry in UNICEF's new book, "UNICHEF."