Hey Flixist readers! We all enjoy bringing you a dozen news articles every single weekday. We also LOVE giving you all advance notice on which films are and aren’t worth seeing on opening weekend. However, from here on we’d like to also bring you another service that we hope you enjoy: a reminder of great films of the past that you (probably) never saw even though they deserve to be rewatched and remain relevant all these years later.
In other words, please join me and others every few weeks as we take a break from all the box office hits and praise of already famous films from the past, and instead give damn good movies the attention they deserve, but may have never received. If you ever find yourself not knowing what movie to watch at night when you’re bored, then be sure to check back and dig through all of our underrated film suggestions in the future.
You can expect a fair amount of spoilers in this underrated article, so please feel free to just trust Flixist’s recommendation record and instead watch the film from a fresh perspective and come back to the comments to let us know if you agree or disagree!
I can put your bias fears to rest: I listen to Howard Stern one day a year at most, and my knowledge of the man comes from those few days in my childhood where I missed the bus and had to be driven to school by my mom and was able to hear bits and pieces of his radio show before it got raunchy and she changed the channel. I know enough to understand why he’s loved by his fans, and despite most of his haters being ignorant one time listeners, I’ll admit there are several logical and legitimate points to be made against him and his actions in the past, but I think this movie would surprise even his most appalled opponents. It very much so deserves its heavy R rating, but it’s contradictory in that it’s still very much so a film for all ages that everyone can appreciate for different reasons at different times in their lives.
To those of you who worry about authenticity or a weak cast list, Howard Stern’s autobiography does something incredibly admirable: all of the people in the radio show are played by themselves in the movie. Howard Stern’s family has been replaced by real actors for obvious privacy issues, but the mother and father are played by the great Kelly Bishop (Gilmore Girls, Dirty Dancing) and Richard Portnow (The Sopranos, Se7en). Mary McCormack (The West Wing, In Plain Sight) plays Howard’s wife, and her exceptional acting in a few scenes really elevate this film in a way that reminds you it’s not just a funny tale but instead a serious life story. It’s a real shame Hollywood never got to see much of McCormack in her prime because she could have eventually won an award if given the chance with more roles, which will probably make Julie Bowen (Modern Family) this decade’s Mary McCormack. We all know Paul Giamatti but few know that his role as Howard’s jerk boss is one of the most memorable performances of his career, and when the man’s been in over 70 different movies, that says a lot. You can also expect cameos or small roles from Allison Janney (The West Wing), Leslie Bibb (this was her first film appearance!), Edie Falco (The Sopranos), Carol Alt, Jenna Jameson, Slash, Ozzy Osbourne, and many others.
Directed by Betty Thomas, Private Parts begins with a young Howard joining his strict father to work at a radio station and quickly progresses through his awkward high school years until two big moments occur in college: he gets his first radio gig, and he meets the love of his life, Alison (McCormack). Howard might be controversial and obnoxious, but he’s never fit the “celebrity” label and still continues to talk with random NYC citizens for hours at a time to this day. His film shows this well and we believe his love story and recognize that being on the radio to him is what being a film director is to many well-known industry names. It allows him to escape his awkward reality while at the same time also embracing that awkwardness in the privacy of a studio, with the listener support showing him that he isn’t alone. We can all admit that a wide array of inappropriate thoughts stream through our head each day, and there’s no harm in thinking them as long as we know which we shouldn’t act on, but it is a shame that it’s so rare and hard for us to ever even speak of those thoughts.
At its heart, Private Parts is about one man who’s willing to do something no one else would: be honest. It’s such a simple, easy aspect of life, yet still to this day we so rarely see it. The definitive line in the movie is what listeners around New York City said when asked “Why do you listen to Howard Stern on the radio?” and they all reply with “I just wanted to see what he’d say next!” That’s certainly how he got his break and eventually rose in ratings, but that’s not at all why he was successful long before and long after those definitive months in NYC; it’s all because he’s honest about others, and especially about himself. It’s this quote in the movie that instead summarizes Howard’s life much better:
“I should be talking about my personal life. I’ve got to get intimate. And every time I feel like I shouldn’t say something, maybe I should just say it. Just blurt it out, you know? I just gotta let things fly. I gotta go all the way … a lot of times I’m just holding back.”
And with that, the nation’s radio was about to change forever. Instead of disc jockies (DJs) just flipping discs and announcing the time or weather, Howard Stern was about to introduce the concept of having DJs talk to each other in between songs. Think about that for a second. Before him, that wasn’t popular, or even existed in most U.S. cities. In Hollywood we make a big fuss every time someone figures out a new CGI technique or camera trick *cough* spinning hallway *cough*. What Howard did was the equivalent of inventing an entire new genre of film. He didn’t just dominate radio, he changed the entire art medium. Like it or not, you’ve got to respect how much one man changed in his industry. While I sympathize with readers that radio straying from pure music may have been a bad thing, it’s largely become all about ads and promotions these days, whereas with Howard it’s always been about honesty, and an early scene even addresses his thoughts on inauthentic ads on radio.
While Howard ages and works his way up the DC radio rankings, we witness a romance story that also evolves and does a great job of not being afraid to be honest as well. It’s not definitive, it’s not polished, it’s not dramatified; it just tells the story as it is, even when Howard isn’t cast in a favorable light. In that aspect, Private Parts almost feels like an Indie film that’s not afraid to stray from the norm: nothing about Howard is amazing or great or worthy of greatness; he’s just himself and that’s okay. Even the dialogue is natural and far from elegant and if an actor stutters once in a scene that’s acceptable and makes the final cut, because damn it, that’s real. And celebrity tabloids be damned, Howard proved that just as many people want to hear about real people and real flaws, and that’s exactly how he became the most popular radio show in all of the DC area. After that milestone, the second half of the film begins with Howard’s show getting bought by WNBC and being brought to the largest city in America with the foolish assumption that they could tame him for syndicated radio in an era when no one challenged the FFC (Hipster Howard, if you will).
After signing a three year contract with Howard only to suffer $40,000 FCC fines right from the start, WNBC tasks Kenny (Paul Giamatti) – or Pig Vomit as Howard called him – with controlling Stern’s controversial creativity. Kenny quickly realizes Howard’s not possible to tame, so he instead tries to push him to his limit in hopes he’ll break his contract and leave, but the ensuing radio battle between the two was the catalyst that injected Howard to nationwide fame. The feud between him and his boss lasted a full year in real life, but to us even just condensing it down to 40 minutes is nonstop laughter.
Imagine a radio show sweeping through the streets of 5+ million NYC residents during the work week; Private Parts lets us relive those important and exciting moments. (The rest of this paragraph contains major spoilers.) Moments like asking your co-worker – live on air, back in the 90s – how often women get horny. Moments like figuring out legal ways to say censored words on radio, just to mock how silly the whole FCC thing was. Moments like having a fan call in and admit she fantasizes about Howard, so he has her straddle her bass speaker while wearing panties and letting him “oooooo hummmmmmmm bbbvvvvv” into the microphone while she has an orgasm on live radio. Can you imagine living in NYC at the time when these types of groundbreaking censorship rebellion moments were occurring every week? Keep in mind that back then the millions at work didn’t have Facebook or iPhones to fiddle with; the radio was the ONLY source of entertainment for the office workers, police forces in the streets, or construction workers in acre lots. Years later the FCC would comparatively have it easy with shows like South Park after they’d been around the block many times with Howard Stern. Whereas Matt Stone and Trey Parker are more talented and gifted at comedy, Howard instead laughed at the notion of “with great power comes great responsibility” and had no restraint in a way that was a daily nightmare for the FCC. No matter what happened though, he always stayed true to his promise with fans that nothing – not even his married sex life – was off limits in live discussions.
You can disagree with Howard personally and ethically and even morally, but any person of any walk of life can take something special from this movie and walk away with a different or renewed look on some important aspect of society. Because of that, even if you already have a preconceived notion about him and his past, and even if your mind is made up on the man, you still owe it to yourself to watch this film. He doesn’t get any bonus or negative points because of who or what he does outside the frames of this film, but as a single movie, it’s an autobiography that just about anyone will enjoy thoroughly from start to finish. This is a film that will make you laugh so much that you’ll never forget it. Also, make sure you watch to the very end of the credits!
Overall Score: 7.85 – Good. (7s are good, but not great. These films often have a stereotypical plot or are great movies that have a few minor flaws. Fans of this movie’s genre might love it, but others will still enjoy seeing it in theaters.)