Friday, January 24, 2014

Sundance movie five: It's good to be Takei.

Left to right: Brad Takei, George Takei,
and Jennifer Kroot.
George Takei is brilliant! And in her new film, Jennifer Kroot showcases that brilliance with skill and charm.  To Be Takei follows the 75-year-old star/activist and his husband Brad. The movie offers plenty of opportunities to reveal the humor, love, and argumentative moments that make the couple so engaging.  The structure of the film also allows the filmmaker to flash back and reveal how interesting and important Takei's life has been.  The result is a documentary that fires on all cylinders; it's emotional, funny, charming, inspiring, and even educational.

From an emotional standpoint, the story of Takei and his family being sent to Japanese interment camps is powerful.  Kroot uses footage from the time period and snappy animations to accentuate Takei's dramatic telling of the story. This is a great movie if you want to learn and understand a tragic time in our nation's history.

Director, Jennifer Kroot
I can't decide who is funnier, George or husband Brad.  George Takei, fast on his feet and ridiculously optimistic, had the sold-out crowd laughing throughout the screening. Brad, with his wise pessimism and relentless organizational skills, is the perfect straight man to Takei's unbridled fun.  Their 25-year-long relationship provides a solid backdrop against which to tell the story of same-sex marriage. I challenge anyone to watch this movie and not see gay marriage as the right thing to do. OK, it probably wouldn't change the minds of most of my conservative friends. But it might make them at least consider the idea from a new perspective.

The cast and movie team.
Takei is also a fascinating character for his ability to constantly reinvent himself.  He's not just Sulu from Star Trek. He's a politician. A force for American musical theatre. And an amazingly clever social media star.  All of these things combine to make him and Brad people you wish you could hang out with.

A note on the musical theater front.  The movie introduces us to Allegiance, a new musical about Japanese interment camps.  In a strange coincidence, George and Brad find themselves meeting Lorenzo Thione and Jay Kuo.  These two become the creative team who suggest creating a new musical based on some of Takei's experiences.  At the screening, Thione revealed that the musical, which debuted at the Old Globe Theater, is ready to move to Broadway as soon as a theater is available.

Lorenzo Thione
The movie has many cameo appearances. William Shatner comes off as a bit of a jerk. Leonard Nimoy is kind but a little bit out of touch.  And Howard Stern is weird, brilliant, uncomfortable, and a perfect addition to the movie.

The Q&A after the movie with the movie makers, George, and Brad was a delight.  At one moment, an audience member addressed a question to "Mr. Takei." George began his response with the question, "which Mr. Takei?" George Takei may just change the world.

For its wit, power, emotion, and downright goofiness, I give To Be Takei that most elusive of honors: Five Jeffies.  Maybe the  moviemakers  will scrawl that on the movie poster. One can dream.

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