Recently the grand marshal of Seattle’s Pride Parade, George Takei has become America’s favorite gay uncle. Closeted during his Star Trek days, now enthusiastically, emphatically out, he’s a terrific subject for Jennifer Kroot’s admiring new documentary. The only problem for them both? Takei has told his story so much since 2005, maybe too often, on Howard Stern and sundry TV talk shows. There isn’t much new to learn here, since Takei has been so effective in selling his brand and commenting on the culture via Twitter. Such irony: After decades of coy silence about his personal affairs, Takei’s late-life outspokenness has left him with little new to say. With his dyed hair and determined affability, he’s the kind of professional ham whose spiel is expertly timed to last through the dinner course on the lecture circuit. And yet still we applaud, maybe a little teary, just when dessert arrives. How sweet it is to see a life thus validated.
Somewhat better than your average reality TV episode, To Be Takei feels like an extra victory lap for a guy who’s already run several. Kroot doesn’t have to dig hard for Takei’s life story (from World War II internment camp to life in the closet), because he’s got it down to a practiced keynote speech. His story is affecting, and his dealings with exasperated husband-to-be Brad are amusing—especially when Kroot simply leaves them alone with the camera to bicker. Maybe what’s most impressive about Takei, whom we see patiently signing photos for fans at Seattle’s 2012 Emerald City Comicon (cash only!), is his showbiz determination to work to the very end (he’s 77). After debuting his new musical Allegiance, about life in the camp, he’s exhausted yet thrilled. You did great, Brad tells him, considering you forgot half your lines. Runs Fri., Aug. 22–Thurs., Sept. 4 at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Not rated. 90 minutes.