Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Private Parts, Briefly

I didn't know much about Howard Stern before watching "Private Parts." If you don't know the name: he's the self-proclaimed "King of All Media," and has good enough reason to say it. More to the point, the rich wrongness of his jokes is legendary.*

1997's "Private Parts" is a fine, fun movie. It's terribly funny, and Stern is very charismatic. The picture hits its emotional beats incredibly well...

The story does a fine job of tracing Howard back to his awkward Long Island roots. It follows him through the early parts of his radio career, his gradual rise to national attention, and the complications of being the biggest and wildest name in radio.

People who won't like "Private Parts": (a) anyone tired of celebrating/hearing about celebrities; (b) folks who only know his show's Porn Star/crackhead/Jackass stunts on his show; (c) folks who find his catering to desperate people/naked women offensive. I can't blame you for holding any of those opinions.

It's just that there's more going on - enough to put up with him for the duration of the picture. The film, like the man, doesn't rely on nudity and raw comedy alone. Howard is a gifted comedian, and can be intelligent, incisive, funny, and astoundingly satirical. For the vast majority, it would be hard to watch this without laughing, and it does tell a good (true) story.

If you can stick with it,  you'll feel frustration as "the man" tries to keep Howard down. NBC execs act nice to get the shock jock's ratings, then try to crush him when he risks being offensive. There's added pressure, as a family man's all-female family is harassed because Dad's a silly, lewd jerk on the air. The enemies Stern faces are both familiar and despicable, so it's nearly impossible to hope he fails, y'know?

No matter what, you're bound to feel happy for The King, as his insistence on being an intelligent "freak" works to his favor. He's clever, and audiences love to see clever guys win out. Like a lot of popular film characters (or folk heroes, which he oddly is for some), our broadcaster triumphs through his personal appeal and choice to be true to himself.

If you like seeing "the nice guy" win, then you'll be happy to watch this slightly-perverse take on the tale. Like his on-air work, "PP" has a sort of strong resonance, because a guy like Howard Stern really does appeal to "the common man" (and woman). Also, the strong soundtrack features AC/DC's classic "You Shook Me All Night Long." You can never go wrong with that tune...

Sorry if it's blurred, it's all Youtube had.

If the flick has suffered in the years since its release, it's only in a weird way. See, the pic is a love story about people who separated 2 years after this movie came out; they then divorced two years after that. Stern has since remarried. Awkward, right? [Sorry for the real-life spoiler]

None of that matters. You're almost guaranteed to be entertained by the deep cast, as well as the story. I mean 1997-era Paul Giamatti, Allison Janney, Leslie Bibb, Edie Falco, and Mary McCormack. Iggy Pop, Flavor Flav, MC Hammer, and David Letterman lead a group of celebrities who appear as themselves. Really, there's a lot for eyes in this picture...

If you're looking for a laugh, this movie has them in spades. Betty Thomas' solid direction also helps; she may not have done another movie nearly this good, but that's one more than me. She did a fine job here, and I'll give her credit.

Also. keep in mind that the themes in "Private Parts" center on censorship and being true to yourself, so many will react strongly to that. Also, vulgarity, nudity, and sarcasm, in case you have strong feelings about those.
See you tomorrow,
Half a Film Student

*He actually had handicapped people playing "Beat the Clock" on a certain TV show in 1990. Nearing the end of the obstacle course was a one-legged man jumping through tires; Howard was hiding in a spot by the finish line - and knocked him over by pegging him with tennis balls.

I laughed so hard that it hurt; so did my friend. In fact, everyone on the show - the handicapped guy included - was laughing so that I didn't feel too evil for finding it funny. If you listen to his show during your commute, Howard Stern might force you off the road with jokes.


  1. I like Private Parts quite a bit. (Probably thanks to Ivan Reitman's involvement), it feels like an 80s comedy. What's funnier is that, beyond the boobs thrown in for shock value, it's really this sweet, straightforward biopic, much tamer than you might have anticipated based on Stern's radio show.

    Oh, and Paul Giamatti's in it in his breakout role - badass!

  2. That's a great point, Fletch! Ivan Reitman probably did help keep the film centered on its heart.

    You never forget that Stern is partly a normal guy with bad bosses and kids + a wife that are important to him. It helps balance out the parts of his show that can be described as "super-sex-spectacle."

    And, yup, PG could steal a scene with the best of 'em.


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