PRIVATE PARTS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Betty Thomas
Stars: Howard Stern, Mary McCormack, Robin Quivers, Fred Norris, Reni Santoni, Paul Giamatti, Carol Alt, Paul Hecht, Jackie Martling, Gary Dell’Abate, Richard Portnow, Althea Cassidy
Running Time: 109 minutes.

It’s not every one who gets the opportunity to indulge themselves by having their own home movie shot by a professional Hollywood film crew. But then again, Howard Stern, the enfant terrible of American radio, is not just your average guy, and Private Parts is no ordinary “home” movie. America’s controversial top talk show host and widely syndicated radio DJ, Stern built his reputation on doing the unpredictable and unthinkable live on radio, exploring taboos, testing the boundaries, and shaking up complacent and tired old radio formats with his antics. He reveled in his political incorrectness and he shook up the conventions of radio at the same time as he shook up the ratings. Audiences tuned in just to see what he would say or do next!

Stern tries to explain himself in typically unapologetic fashion in this fictionalised semi-autobiographical film that traces his journey from his early childhood ambition of working as a DJ, through to the triumphant realisation of his goal when his unique style conquered New York City, via a number of small radio stations in which it seemed that his ultimate goal would come unstuck. Based on Stern’s own best selling autobiography, Private Parts is at times a revealing film as it contrasts his more reserved private self and his early sense of insecurity with his explosive live wire radio personality, and these more intimate and personal moments elicit some reluctant sympathy for the man. The film also explores in hilarious detail the shabby politics of nervous radio station managers and executives who tried to tame him, and depicts, with some vindictive pleasure, his heated clash with Kenny (Paul Giamatti, recently seen in a small role in Donnie Brasco, etc), the stiff and humourless NBC program director affectionately referred to as “Pig Vomit”.

Stern plays himself, probably because no-one else could capture his manic personality or undoubted charisma, while Mary McCormack (from Murder One, etc) plays his wife Alison. Many of Stern’s real life on-air collaborators and friends, such as Robin Quivers and the vital, energetic, witty and charismatic Fred Norris, play themselves, which further adds to the almost natural, spontaneous and unpolished nature of the performances and the film’s uncompromising, raw edge. Private Parts seems like a warts and all documentary, and in an effort to further enhance that authentic look and feel, producer Ivan Reitman and director Betty Thomas (The Brady Bunch Movie, etc) have crammed the film to overflowing with more cameo appearances than you can shake a radio microphone at.

There’s a tongue in cheek sensibility to this mockumentary, which Stern makes quite clear early in the piece when he warns audiences that they will have to suspend disbelief for much of the movie. The humour is deliberately smutty and low brow in nature, rarely rising above the navel level, and the non-purists will revel in the obscenities and heavy innuendo. There is also something horribly yet delightfully sexist in the way in which the producers attempt to introduce the various chapter headings that illustrate Stern’s giddy progress from small time college radio to prime time with a major network. Stern’s progress through the wilderness of American radio is accompanied by a great rock soundtrack featuring AC/DC (who appear in the movie), Cheap Trick and even Marilyn Manson.

If this self indulgent and narcissistic exercise is any indication, then Stern obviously has an ego the size of Central Park. While Stern is undoubtedly something of a cultural icon for American audiences, most Australian audiences may not be quite as tuned into the cult of personality that surrounds him. For many, this fast, raucous and very cheeky film about the rise and rise of Howard Stern will most likely be greeted with cries of Who? and Who cares?

★★

 

 

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