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Private Parts

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Private Parts

Starring: Howard Stern, Robin Quivers
Director: Betty Thomas
Rated: R
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: March 1997
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Mary McCormack, Paul Giamatti, Fred Norris, Gary Dell'abate

Review by Andrew Hicks
3 stars out of 4

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 suspend disbelief."

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 aiming for.

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 can't complain.

Copyright 1997 Andrew Hicks

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