Directed by Lily Zepeda and written by Zepeda, Tchavdar Georgiev, Hee-Jae Park, and Monique Zavistovski, documentary Mr. Toilet: The World’s #2 Man is about Jack Sim: a man from Singapore who is obsessed with… well, toilets. It sounds crazy, but he has a point: almost half of the world’s population does not have access to a toilet, which means they have to “go” outdoors. This poses grave sanitation issues for many impoverished communities and puts women who have to go outdoors in danger of assault. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Jack’s mission is a heroic one. Toilets really are indispensable, but the taboos and the indignity associated with them leaves the issue untouched. (JRL: 4/5)
Review by FF2 Intern Julia Lasker
The documentary follows Jack, who is the founder of the World Toilet Organization, as he travels to underprivileged areas with sanitation problems, including New Delhi and some rural villages in China. He follows what he calls an “anything it takes” approach to convince communities to invest in building usable toilets. His action plan is all over the place: one moment he is dancing in a store window in a toilet costume, and the next he is onstage with a Bollywood star to promote better sanitation in India. Jack’s dreams are so big that it’s hard for him to adapt them into a realistic plan, so the doc follows him through many odd pursuits.
The quirky man’s primary tactic is humor; he explains that “We have to move the subject from taboo to funny.” Humor works well for him. What makes Mr. Toilet so wonderful to watch is Jack’s hilarious personality. It’s clear that his magnetic charm impacts others as well. By the end of the film, he has, among other things, won over a Brahmin and the Chinese Foreign Minister, established a World Toilet Day, and built a set of clean and flushable toilets in a set of private schools in China.
The doc is also interspersed with anecdotes from Jack’s family, who mention, forgivingly, that he’s not often around. He wants to feel like he’s made a difference, they explain, and he can’t do that at home. His relationship with his wife and kids is quite bittersweet, but one of the most beautiful parts of this story is that, over the course of the film, he begins to realize and to incorporate into his life the importance of his lovely family.
A snappy hour and a half in length, Mr. Toilet is enjoyable all the way through. To illustrate some of the topics discussed, there are adorable and funny graphics throughout. Jack is both incredibly funny and wonderfully kind to those around him. His contagious joy makes what might have been a gross and upsetting film actually quite delightful.
But Mr. Toilet isn’t all about the laughs. Beneath the jokes, Jack is a just man who is trying to figure out his place in the world and his purpose in life, which leaves him disappointed and lost at times, though he never gives up. As we grow to love Jack, his struggles to make a difference in the world, which is ultimately all he really wants, tug at our heartstrings.
Beyond that, the message of Mr. Toilet is actually incredibly important: granting people in impoverished communities access to clean toilets is literally a matter of life and death. Just like Jack, this doc uses humor and charm to de-stigmatize something that no one wants to talk about but that ultimately must be addressed. Mr. Toilet is absolutely worth watching, both to grasp its powerful message and, honestly, for a good time.
© Julia Lasker (11/28/19) FF2 Media
Photos: Credit to Jim Orca