Toronto Review: "Hugh Hefner: Playboy..."

By Melissa Algaze Friday September 11th 2009 11:47PM

"Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel" gets its World Premiere as a 'Special Presentation' at Toronto and is an intimate look at the founder of the Playboy empire: Hugh Hefner. Here, we learn of Hefner's fierce battles with the government, the religious right and militant feminists as well as the extraordinary life he has lived.

Most fascinating was learning about the development of Playboy as a business. Hefner himself admits he was driven to create Playboy to show that there is beauty everywhere, especially in the girl next door and that sex was a part of life and it was OK for women to enjoy sex. Feminists may have agreed with the concept but not the execution and clashes with militant feminists and the religious right were frequent. Hefner was the ultimate marketer, always searching for ways to expand the brand, including developing the Playboy Clubs and TV programming – he was ahead of his time in many, many ways.

Director Berman, who met Hefner after he saw her film about musician Bix Beiderbecke, digs deeply into this multi-faceted icon with in-depth interviews with Hefner himself and with as many supporters as detractors, including Joan Baez, Tony Bennett, Pat Boone, George Lucas, Mike Wallace, and lesser known people who worked with Hefner to develop Playboy and the Playboy brand into the international conglomerate it is today.

While Berman's access was unfettered, it felt that (even at over two hours), the film doesn't delve deeply enough into any one area and lacks soul. Maybe it's because Hefner as a subject is so dense, that any filmmaker would be hard pressed to create a singular vision of this man.