About mid-way through "Private Parts," radio bad boys Howard Stern and
Fred Norris concoct a stunt to drive their program director crazy.
Annoyed by the PD's edict that they perform wacky character bits instead
of free-form chatter, the men agree to his demand with a vengeance. Using
thick, lisping voices, they play an effeminate gay couple, gushing their
love for one another. The scene climaxes, so to speak, with Stern
pretending to gargle a cup of semen as a sign of his devotion, gurgling
obscenely and popping off one-liners about swallowing. As a gay man…hell,
as an ADULT, I should have been offended watching these clowns reinforce
negative gay stereotypes with their juvenile display. Instead, I couldn't
stop laughing. Hunched over their microphones like co-conspirators, those
two giggling overgrown schoolboys were delightfully naughty, not
malicious. Oddly enough, the whole ludicrous scene was actually endearing.
The publicity campaign for "Private Parts" has been one of the most
aggressive in recent memory. Beyond the barrage of promotional ads, Stern
has appeared on every magazine cover, news program, and talk show in
sight. If fact, I'm surprised he hasn't dropped by my apartment to offer
suggestions on how to write this review. Over and over, Stern has
hammered away at his message that "Private Parts" is more than just an
outrageous comedy – it's also a sweet story of a misunderstood guy who is
deeply devoted to his wife and family.
He's more or less correct. The film is a entertaining, surprisingly
traditional biopic; liberally peppered with Stern's gross-out humor.
Based on his 1993 autobiography, Stern provides the voice-over as we
watch sepia-tone images of his childhood in New York, with Dad calling
little Howard an idiot. Stern's interest in radio leads him to Boston
University, where he meets Alison (Mary McCormack of "Murder One"), the
love of his life. Playing himself, in a hilarious variety of bad
hairstyles, Stern pays his dues working as a floundering mainstream
deejay in various radio stations, eventually landing a gig in Washington
DC, where he, along with cohorts Norris and Robin Quivers, develops his
shock jock on-air personality.
Director Betty Thomas ("The Brady Bunch Movie") handles the trio of radio
performers well, placing them in familiar settings where their fledgling
skills as actors are not overly taxed. Quivers, Stern's newscaster and
straightman, handles her scenes well, but Fred Norris, Stern's engineer
and cohort, is the film's real surprise. His deadpan delivery ("Fred's
like wallpaper," explains Stern), coupled with a naive sexiness, provides
some big laughs. During a hotel room sequence with Stern and a B-movie
starlet, Norris says little, but completely steals the scene in hilarious
Stern is at his best when in the studio or onstage, reenacting his bits
with infectious glee. His acting ability is shakier during the much-
heralded tender moments, although McCormack's quietly assured performance
is strong enough to carry the two of them. Early scenes of Stern as a
geeky novice are ham-handed, to say the least. Still, the gags are good.
One of the funniest shots is a visual; a close up of Stern's crotch as he
clearly becomes aroused beneath his trousers. God help the special
effects person assigned to produce that shot.
"Private Parts" includes moments of shocking tastelessness, particularly
a sequence of Stern making jokes on the air about his wife's miscarriage.
But the scene is quickly followed by a "heartfelt" apology from Stern,
reinforcing the film's incessant portrayal of Stern as a man whose rude
demeanor is just a cover for the lovable cuddle-bunny that lies inside.
Stern likens his life story to "Rocky," seeing himself as a gangly
outcast who succeeds against all the odds. That seems simplistic and a
bit suspect. "Private Parts" plays like a well-done snow job; a candy
coated valentine to an self-obsessed media hound. I doubt that Stern is
the demon some paint him to be, but he's certainly not Mister Rogers
either. Regardless of "Private Parts" self-serving design, the bottom
line is that this rude, funny and sweet movie works. So Howard wins again.
Geez, who'd have thought?
Copyright © 1997 Edward Johnson-Ott