Movie Review: It’s never been more OK “To Be Takei”

takeiIn case you missed it, it’s George Takei’s America. We’re just living in it. And getting his autograph.

The man owns the Internet, through his wry Facebook memes and comical commentary on issues from gay rights to sci-fi omnipresence.

On film and his many TV guest appearances, he’s a brand — the booming voice, the winking gay self-awareness, the disarming ready laugh that he unleashes on fans and critics alike.

Long closeted himself, he made his “coming out” a party, and all of America was invited. Even his nemesis, William Shatner.

And with every baritone “Ohhh myyyyy,” he taught the world that “It’s OK to Be Takei!”

“To Be Takei” captures this droll 77 year-old as he is now, living the lie that F. Scott Fitzgerald promoted, that “there are no second acts in American lives.” Takei, actor turned gay Japanese-American icon, has never been more hip, more in demand and more beloved than he is right this minute.

Jennifer M. Kroot’s documentary follows Takei and his longtime companion-turned-husband Brad, as they bounce from convention to speaking engagement, nature walk to TV and radio interviews.

He sings his favorite song as a child who lived through the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans who were rounded up because of fears they’d be disloyal, “Don’t Fence Me In.” And he prepares for a starring role in a stage musical about that tragedy, “Allegiance,” a guy whose husband admits, with some worry, “is not much of a singer” hoping for a shot at Broadway.

Kroot captures Takei’s perfectly-rehearsed and from-the-heart speeches about those years, uprooted from Los Angeles to Arkansas with his family, people who had everything taken from them and had to start over in a still-racist country after World War II ended.

“You determine your destiny,” he booms. “I don’t BELIEVE in negativity!”

That’s what preserved him during those early years, and the decades after he realized he wasn’t “normal” in his sexual orientation, decades in which he had to start his acting career playing stereotypes.

Then he landed “Star Trek,” and generations of Asian-Americans had a role model and he, typecast or not, had a career. And a comical nemesis, in William Shatner, the vain camera hog who starred in the show and lorded it over Takei, then and now.

The most interesting elements of “To Be Takei” are his moving accounts of those years of internment (he was very young), years remembered by other public figures (Norman Mineta, Sen. Daniel Inouye) who went through it and the political activism that Takei made into his post-“Star Trek” career.

“To Be Takei” is framed within a long Howard Stern Show interview, rightly placing Takei’s rise to his many appearances on the no-holds-barred shock jock’s radio show. That’s where “Oh MY” was born, where Takei hilariously insisted, for years, that he was heterosexual and where he had a home when he finally came out of the closet, outraged by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto of California’s first gay marriage bill.

Takei corrects one and all, including husband Brad, on gay semantics. “It’s NOT a lifestyle, it’s an orientation.” He might debate gay rights on TV, but rarely loses his cool. He might be mobbed by fanboys and girls at conventions, but he is ever-smiling, ever-indulgent.

It’s a fun story, and yes, an inspiring one, a biographical documentary that will make you grin and think, “ONLY in America,” even if his catchphrase, “Oh Myyyyy” is what you say out loud.

MPAA Rating: unrated, adult subject matter

Cast: George Takei, Brad Takei, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, John Cho, B.D. Wong, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig

Credits: Written and directed by Jennifer M. Kroot. A Starz Digital Media release.

Running time: 1:34

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