1997, R, 108 min. Directed by Betty Thomas. Starring Reni Santoni, Kelly Bishop, Jenna Jameson, Paul Giamatti, Carol Alt, Jackie Martling, Fred Norris, Mary Mccormack, Robin Quivers, Howard Stern.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Thu., May 30, 2002
Since I’m usually still asleep when pop-phenom Stern’s morning drivetime radio show airs locally, I’m a relative newcomer to the man’s much-publicized on-air shenanigans. That is to say, in a world divided between the love hims/hate hims, I’ve managed to remain steadfastly neutral on the all-encompassing Howard Issue. This screen adaptation of his best-selling 1994 autobiography brings together both the sacred and profane sides of Stern ñ his lesbian-baiting, profoundly obnoxious, and childlike id and the presumably less-well-known family man. “Everything I say is misunderstood,” he comments throughout the course of the film, but being misunderstood is stock in trade for America’s premier FM shock jock; there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and nobody knows that caveat more than Stern. As directed by Betty Thomas (HBO’s The Late Shift, The Brady Bunch Movie) and produced by longtime comedy genius Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Dave), Stern the Icon has been reinvented as Stern the Regular Joe (though he’ll forever be stuck with Alan Alda’s voice and Joey Ramone’s looks in my mind). Private Parts begins with scenes of young Howard growing up as an insecure shlub: a gawky, hopelessly awkward nerd, cursed with a schnozz of Cyranoiac proportions and an insatiable curiosity toward the opposite sex. Graduating from college, Howard embarks on a series of low-rent AM radio jobs that go nowhere thanks in part to his sycophantic style. For a long time, it seems the only thing keeping him afloat is his love for Alison, his college sweetheart and future wife. When he finally scores a position at a Washington, D.C. station that allows him to vent his stream-of-consciousness ramblings on the air, he finds his popularity ñ and the station’s ratings ñ soaring. It’s not long before New York City’s famed WNBC collars him with a lucrative contract and lasting fame is assured. Thomas’ comic flair is undeniable, as is Stern’s comic acting ability; all other arguments aside, Private Parts> is a consistently uproarious affair, riddled with brilliant comic set-pieces, including Stern’s many, many run-ins with various program directors and NBC brass. Sidekick Robin Quivers and longtime engineer-writer Fred Norris are also remarkably adept at subtle screen comedy, though you have to wonder how much of that relies on the fact that they’re playing themselves. The debate over Howard Stern (“You’re the Antichrist!” decries one NBC exec) will rage on long after this film winds up in Blockbuster’s bargain bin, but Private Parts deserves better: It may just be grand Stern propaganda, but it’s impossible to deny the film’s deft comic charm, its sincerely romantic heart, and all that gratuitous nudity.