There’s nothing actively off-putting about To Be Takei, an innocuous fans-only-and-even-that’s-pushing-it profile of George Takei, the Star Trek icon now equally known as an out-and-proud actor. Jennifer M. Kroot’s portrait takes its title from a 2011 highlight in the performer’s career as a gay-rights activist, when he combated the Tennessee legislature prohibiting teachers from using the word “gay” by offering his own name as a replacement (“it’s okay to be Takei”). The documentary’s other activist focus is Takei’s ongoing lectures on the subject of World War II Japanese-American internment, which he experienced as a child. The latter subject gets somber newsreel footage and sad music, erring on the side of po-faced examination. Takei’s role here is as an educator making sure this chapter of American life isn’t buried; for those already aware, there’s little to be gained from these broad historical overviews.
Takei is otherwise almost as much about the man’s longtime partner, Brad. A couple for nearly 30 years, the two seem to live in perpetual friction: Takei the deep-voiced laugher and teaser, Brad his perpetually fretful and sometimes hurt companion. Their shared affection is unquestionable, and Kroot makes sure not to ruffle their calm too much. Disagreements are largely limited to Takei’s habit of ragging on both his partner and seemingly anyone who’s gained weight. (At the Emerald City Comicon, he ribs Wil Wheaton for putting on the pounds).
It’s not that it’s desirable or necessary for Kroot to disruptively pry into the couple’s life for hidden tensions, but, as presented, there’s not much to delve into otherwise. “It’s not really a very good story, but it happens to be my life,” Brad apologizes when explaining how he met George—a quote easily used against the documentary as a symptomatic diagnosis. Odd glimpses of routine couple combativeness aside, the viewer is left with some uninspiring material like a Wired journalist praising Takei’s innovations as a Facebook content generator or dashboard-cam views of the couple driving and eating Fritos. The actor is genial to fans, especially at Comic-Con, as he should be when charging $35 a pop for his signature. Glimpses of a businesslike Brad organizing lines of fans or stuffing bills into his fanny pack provide a rare suggestion of the workaday mechanics necessary for a septuagenarian cult star to maximize his income.
Takei alternates among admirable but uninspiring lecturing, the usual un-insightfully laudatory talking heads, and the dullest parts of the actor’s days. The technical, workmanlike production is made more irritating than necessary by Michael Hearst’s score, whose grating circus-comes-to-town sprightliness is routinely slathered over mundane footage. Snippets from Takei’s copious appearances on Howard Stern’s show since 1990 make one long for an equally active interrogator behind the camera—someone less concerned with valorization, willing to engage or otherwise coax out better material from an amiable, articulate performer.