To Be Takei is unexpected, even though everything it presents about its subject’s life is somewhere between common knowledge and readily accessible knowledge. Even though director Kroot opens the film on a jovial note–George Takei (the titular Takei) and his husband, Brad Takei (sort of also the titular Takei), taking their morning walk and bickering about whether they’re walking faster for the benefit of the camera–Takei is serious. Kroot has a lot of fun, but her thesis is it’s serious.
Of course, she also opens the film with Howard Stern introducing it, so she has to work uphill to get to serious. And George Takei’s life certainly has a lot of serious in it. Kroot often saves clips (and discussions) of William Shatner for when she needs to relieve some of the stress in the film.
The film does have a somewhat set narrative; it tracks Takei as he opens his first musical, based on his experiences in internment camps. Along the way, Kroot covers everything else Takei’s famous for–“Star Trek”, Facebook, being gay. The Facebook stuff is almost an aside, ditto the “Star Trek” stuff. Takei’s experiences–both as a gay man in the mid-to-late twentieth century and in Hollywood at that time–are exceptional. Kroot never draws attention it, but Takei’s life is uncommon on almost every level. Except maybe the bickering married stuff.
To Be Takei is surprisingly good. Sure, the protagonists are engaging, but Kroot’s presentation and conclusions make it work.