To say Jack Sim is eccentric would be an understatement. He does bizarre things, like print out stickers that replicate a giraffe's spots, which he then plasters to the pole of a street light. He puts statues in places where he doesn't have authorization to put them. And he's obsessed with shit. Literally. Sim, the head of the World Toilet Organization, is the subject of the documentary Mr. Toilet: The World's #2 Man. Once you meet him, you won't forget him.
Sim has made it his personal mission to bring toilets to parts of the world where they're either subpar or non-existent. An early scene finds him in an impoverished section of India, where people routinely defecate out in the open. (Word to the wise: avoid a trip to the concession stand prior to seeing this film.) The hurdle he faces is that, in some areas, there's actually a resistance to private toilets because they're so foreign. Sim attempts to circumnavigate this via the use of gimmicks to make the issue “sexy.” That includes trying to get celebrities on board, organizing humorous media campaigns, and more.
Mr. Toilet certainly brings focus to its subject's mission. There's a lot to learn about bathroom issues around the world – more than you'd think, in fact. Some of the most enlightening scenes find the WTO bringing fancy toilets to poor regions, only to see the citizens ignore them or express bewilderment at them. Sim doesn't just have to raise the money to purchase these toilets, he also has to make people want to use them. His efforts are admirable.
Parts of the documentary focus on Sim's life outside his work. We meet his wife and children, all of whom have a degree of resentment over the fact that he's rarely home. It's clear that being a husband and father simply doesn't bring him the same personal satisfaction that addressing global toilet issues does. The WTO board of directors has similar frustrations, as Sim's abundance of ideas often renders him unable to provide total focus on any of them. For whatever reason, everyone is completely candid in discussing their exasperation. That gives the picture a captivating personal quality.
Mr. Toilet probably would have been better as a short than as a feature-length doc. At times, it feels a little repetitive. One or two elements -- most notably an Indian leader's decision to attract attention to new local commodes by renaming his village after Donald Trump, much to Sim's chagrin -- leave us wanting more detail. However, the film is certainly educational, and it's very funny to watch Sim do his quirky thing. Bringing a touch of comedy to a serious issue is a wise choice on his part. The portrait of a man intensely driven to solve a very fixable problem is engaging, too. Those qualities help Mr. Toilet rise above its occasional shortcomings and serve as a valuable social issue documentary.
out of four
Mr. Toilet is unrated, but contains adult language and some unappealing visuals related to defecation. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.