In his first feature as a director, Take the Money and Run, Woody Allen was ranked out by his childhood cello teacher. “He had no conception of the instrument,” the teacher huffed. “He would blow into it.” You might say the same thing about Howard Stern and his acting instrument. Actually, Stern might say it. In his first movie, based on his first book, the best-selling 1993 autobiography Private Parts, the radio jock comes off as a master of self-deprecation. Stern knows that his millions of fans are matched by millions of others who’d like to gag his famously foul mouth. The movie, by con or charm, means to reshape our perceptions of the media storm trooper.
What can I tell you? It works. Private Parts is a comic firecracker with a surprising human touch. The premise of Len Blum’s script is that the on-air Stern is a Frankenstein monster. Off the air, he is a reclusive, doting husband and dad. Of course, faithful Stern still fantasizes about the babes on his show, including the Kielbasa Queen, who fellates a 13-inch sausage. Stern makes a great Howard. Forget the acting. Stern appears to be having a roaring good time on camera, and the spirit is contagious.
It also helps that director Betty Thomas (HBO’s The Late Shift) has a wicked knack for buoyant biography. Private Parts tracks Stern from his youth on New York’s Long Island — three actors play him at 7, 12 and 16. Stern steps in at age 20. OK, he doesn’t look 20, but as he quips in a voice-over: “This is the movies — you gotta suspend disbelief.”
Howard’s rise through censorship battles and five radio stations teams him with sidekick Robin Quivers, engineer Fred Norris, writer Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling and producer Gary Dell’Abate — all first-rate as themselves.
Alison, Stern’s wife, is played by Mary McCormack, of TV’s Murder One. Her performance provides the film’s emotional anchor. Convinced that Howard’s public personality is an act, Alison is still wounded by his on-air jokes about her miscarriage and their sex life. Private Parts, for all its explosive laughs, is that rare comedy that allows for the sweet, messy sprawl of reality.