Howard Stern is one of those phenomena no one can quite
figure out. Maybe people like him because culture has so rapidly
declined and he appeals to the most juvenile sex-obsessed
elements of people, or maybe because he so openly says
whatever's on his mind or possibly because he has all that money
and he still stands well outside the usual kiss-ass celebrity
structure. He's famous and a multi-millionaire but he still
seems like a disgruntled working-class man.
I can't say I'm a big fan of Howard Stern but he does
fascinate me. I read his books Private Parts and Miss America
because of the three reasons listed above, but also because
psychologically, Stern's mind works like no one else's. He's hard
to figure out just because he's so full of contradictions. On one
hand he's the biggest egomaniac on the planet, but on the other
hand he's constantly insulting himself. He's intelligent but immature.
A psychological profile of Stern would fill books.
The PRIVATE PARTS movie could have gone in two
directions. It could have been an over-the-top satire of someone
who creates controversy everywhere he goes with juvenile
behavior but still takes himself completely seriously. Or it could be
a serious look through Stern's eyes at his climb from obscurity to
fame and the obstacles along the way. PRIVATE PARTS takes the
second approach, which I think is the more interesting one (and
the more risky one), and still manages to be funny a lot of the time.
The film begins at its end, a 1991 appearance of Stern as
"Fartman" on the MTV Movie Awards, and soon flashes back to
the roots of it all -- Stern as a child constantly being told to shut up
by his father, Stern as a teenager going on the radio for the first
time, Stern meeting and falling in love with his wife, etc. From
about the age of 18, Stern plays himself, which isn't incredibly
convincing, but as he says, "It's a movie; you're supposed to
That's one of the elements that should have been dropped
from the film -- the constant self-reflexive "We're in a movie"
references. Several times, Stern's real-life cohort Gary Dell'Abate
interrupts the film to persuade scantily-clad women to hold up title
cards telling us where Howard went next. This is intrusive,
although I am grateful all of the Stern crew (Robin Quivers, Fred
Norris, Jackie "The Joke Man" Martling) were cast as themselves
in this film.
We follow Howard from his early days as a wacky
drive-time jockey, as he meets people like Norris (who is
throughly weird) and Quivers (who is thoroughly likeable and
always seems to be above what Howard does) who help him shift
his show from lame and forced comedy to genuine conversation.
Stern is at his best when he's talking about what's on his mind,
which the executives at WNBC radio constantly try to restrict.
The only major player in the Stern story (beside the evil
radio executives who try to keep Stern down) who isn't played by
a real-life counterpart is Stern's wife Allison, played by Mary
McCormack. Casting someone we've never heard of who isn't
model-gorgeous was also a good idea -- it seems more geniune
this way. I overheard several people in the theater asking other
people if that was Stern's real-life wife, which is probably the
response director Betty Thomas and producer Ivan Reitman were
What seems less convincing is one of the film's plotlines --
Stern's loving relationship with his wife. His dilemma, which he
addresses in the Private Parts book, is that he married her before
he was famous. After he got famous, beautiful women came out of
the woodwork, all begging for sex. As someone who was
unsuccessful throughout his life with the opposite sex and basically
never grew up, it's a hard road trying to stay faithful to Allison.
"This is the hell that is my life," he says, completely straight-faced.
In the end, the message is that Stern is completely
misunderstood. He's not the Antichrist, he's just out to entertain
and make money. And he loves his wife. Just as in THE PEOPLE VS.
LARRY FLYNT, we as the audience are in no position to determine
how much of this is the God's-honest-truth and how much is
romanticized by Hollywood, but the movie is entertaining enough
that if they want to make their protagonist out to be a martyr, we
Copyright © 1997 Andrew Hicks