The People Versus Howard Stern.
By Stacey Richter
SOMEHOW, I'D MANAGED to get through life without coming into contact with Howard Stern...until now. I knew he was a DJ or something in New York. I'd heard there was a reporter with a speech impediment working for him who asked Gennifer Flowers if Clinton used a condom. At another press conference, he asked the Dalai Lama if anyone ever just came up to him and said, "Hello, Dalai."
Now, after seeing Private Parts, I know even less about Stern, a "shock-jock" famous for his crude, politically incorrect humor. But I do know quite a bit about the strange propaganda surrounding Stern's rise to fame. Private Parts is the second film so far this year that takes bad taste and turns it into a crusade. Stern's crusade, rather than being for constitutional rights, is a personal quest for success and unconditional love. Private Parts is like The People vs. Larry Flint with all the ideas removed.
It's hard to talk about Stern without talking about his hair--long, shiny, with lots of bangs--as if Kate Jackson had gone crazy with a curling iron. Behind this hair is doughy skin and a beaky nose (he plays himself in the movie), and there seems to be a similar unsettling disjunction of appearances in the filmed version of his life. Private Parts, based on Stern's book and directed by Betty Thomas, tries to present a smooth, rounded, almost wholesome view of the Stern biography. The truth is, what it actually shows us is much weirder.
The weirdness begins with the introductory framing device--Stern is on an airplane, and a sophisticated babe takes a seat next to him. "She hates me," Stern whines in voice-over, "she doesn't even know me and she hates me." The babe settles in, and the rest of the film, apparently, is a sort of story Stern tells her in an attempt to get this total stranger to adore him.
The story he tells is an odd one. It focuses not only on Stern's rise to fame, but on his marriage to Alison (Mary McCormack), an apparently wonderful woman who has stuck by him through thick and thin. Sometimes it seems like Stern's difficult rise to fame is being depicted only so that we can see what his poor wife had to go through while waiting to be what she is today--the wife of a very wealthy man. Thus, we are treated to scenes of a young Howard being enticed into a bathtub by a sexy starlet, and witness the fact that he doesn't actually do it with her. (He leaves on his underwear!)
Later, we see his poor wife trying to put up with this and other behavior that threatens, but never actually undoes, his basic commitment to his wife. This is a movie about the value of monogamy.
Not just monogamy, either, but the fierce sense of loyalty Howard Stern has for all the important people in his life, particularly the women. There is Robin Quivers (played by herself), the news reader he drags along with him on his rise to the top. "You've always been so loyal to the people you work with!" Alison exclaims, when Quivers is angry with Stern because his antics got her fired. Gee whiz! What a nice guy!
The effort to portray Stern as a prince is relentless. Each time he moves to a new radio station, Thomas is sure to give us a couple of scenes of Stern acting really polite and friendly to the other employees. Odd, for a man known for his aggressive, rude humor; and in fact Private Parts isn't a very funny movie, not because the jokes are stupid, but because it doesn't really try to be a comedy. So much effort is spent painting Howard Stern as a good guy and a devout family man that there isn't any time left for comedy.
The jokes, when they do come, are rather tame but still funny. Stern's teenage obsessions with lesbians and naked ladies are silly enough on a grown man to be good for a few laughs. Even the sophisticated babe on the airplane chuckles a little, and by the end of the movie, Stern has won her over. She's decided he's a great guy. The propaganda has worked, and Stern has what he really wants--the affection of strangers. "I could have this girl if I really wanted," Stern brags. Then he gets off the plane and strolls away arm and arm with his wife.
Private Parts is playing at Century Gateway (792-9000), Century Park (620-0750) and Foothills (742-6174) cinemas.
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