xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The last forty minutes of the movie do come together in a pretty diverting way.
What we are getting here is Hefner as he wants to be remembered. He says that, in a way, he wrote his "Playboy Philosophy" in the 1960s to explain himself to his mother. His mother is still alive, at 97, and maybe this movie is for her, too. Hef was raised in a strict Methodist home with old-fashioned values and no hugging, and after decades spent in reaction to that upbringing, he has come full circle and is now the head of a family with a pop, a mom, two sons, and maybe a baby sister on the way. Mom is the 1988 Playmate of the Year, of course, but lots of guys meet nice girls at work.
The movie's style is smooth and professional. James Coburn's narration sounds like an ad for a luxury car. But the materials of the movie are very personal: Childhood snapshots, home movies, yearbook pictures, Hef in high school, Hef in college, Hef at his first job, Hef inventing the Playboy mystique and living right at the heart of it, and finally Hef growing older, as we all must, and having a stroke that slaps him in the face with his mortality, and then, in his 60s, marrying a second time and starting a second family. Full circle.
There are two sequences in the film that contain, I believe, the key to Hefner's public persona. We learn that as "Hugh" he was shy and unpopular the first two years in high school, and then he "reinvented" himself - the word is in the movie - as "Hef," the high school wit and cartoonist, actor and editor, who made the others laugh and entertained them. All the time he was at one remove from this process, turning himself and his friends into cartoons (there are several shots in which high school photos dissolve into his Archie & Jughead caricatures of the same friends).
It was a role that suited him, and later we see him presiding over parties at the Playboy Mansion - where, one of his friends recalls, "there was a bar, but Hef didn't drink. There was a fabulous buffet, but you never saw him eating. It was all for his friends." Hefner himself says, over and over, that his last two years of high school were the happiest years of his life. And there you have the key: Hefner's Playboy image was an extension of Hef, the upperclassman at Chicago's Steinmetz High school, throwing neat parties for his friends with lots of good eats and drinks and movies and pop music - and as the friends had a great time, Hef stood back and watched, and recorded it all in his magazine.