A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Private Parts is a 1997 biopic based on radio personality Howard Stern's 1993 book of the same name. He plays himself in this chronicle of his unlikely rise from a nerdy, awkward, sex-obsessed guy with an uninspired voice, a potty mouth, and a fascination with female nudity to number one DJ in New York City and media force. Despite a father who repeatedly told him to shut up, he has the loudest and last words (many of them profane) here on subjects including beating down difficult bosses and glorifying his habit of mentally undressing the attractive women he meets. Bare breasts and buttocks (his included) appear throughout the film. In one scene an imagined lesbian orgy full of bare-breasted women kiss and touch each other. Sex is referred to frequently. A woman is shown performing oral sex on a long kielbasa. Another is shown straddling her stereo speaker, brought to orgasm from the vibrations caused by Stern's voice. The humor is irreverent and sometimes cruel. Language includes the seven words banned on radio and TV -- "motherf----r," "c--t," "c--ksucker," "f--k," "s--t," "p---y," "ass" -- and others.
What's the story?
PRIVATE PARTS tells the story of the nerdy, high-voiced Howard Stern who fell in love with radio when he was a boy and grew up to become one of the most recognized radio personalities in America through his irreverent attitude toward authority and rules. He pioneers candid discussion of explicit sexual acts on the air, inviting a woman with unusual fellatio skills (think 13-inch kielbasa) and others who strip in the studio and give him on-air massages, all while Stern provides detailed commentary. He makes merciless fun on-air of his bosses and the corporation that pays him, defying restrictions they set for him as well as FCC rules about language and sexual content. Breaking free of those restrictions earns him many listeners, almost as many who hate him as who love him, according to polls conducted by his bosses. He doles out equal-opportunity mockery, denigrating racists and also black militants who want to "kill the white man," at the same time that he gleefully passes gas into the microphone. As long as his show produces advertising revenues, the bosses give up on reining him in. Married to wife Alison (Mary McCormack), he spills intimate details of their lives on the air for millions to hear, which angers Alison and puts a strain on the marriage. In one episode, he gets into a bubble bath wearing only his underwear with a naked actress, protesting unconvincingly all along that he can't do anything because he's married. He finally jumps out of the tub when she fondles his private parts, which are unseen under the water. He boasts that he can have the beautiful woman sitting next to him on an airplane, but passes up the opportunity because of his faithfulness to Alison, with whom he has three children. The movie ends as he leaves the seatmate and goes off with Alison. (They separated two years after the movie came out.)
Is it any good?
The charm and the cringeworthiness of this movie derive from the same quirk: that Stern is basically a sex-obsessed 14-year-old boy who just wants a little peek under the girl's bra. This adolescent view of life is reinforced as he seems proud of his knack for exposing the contradictions in grown-up life and the hypocrisy of family-oriented institutions (like media companies, where his bosses swear like the proverbial drunken sailors but ban bad language on the air), but sometimes his mockery goes too far, or causes others pain.
The trouble is that even older teens might be fooled into believing that Stern's triumphs over his controlling bosses somehow provide proof that being vulgar is the same as fighting for freedom. Stern touts his accomplishments and downplays the pain he's caused. He loves his wife but nevertheless, wearing only his underwear, climbs into a bathtub with a naked actress just because she asked him to. He sneaks the word "c--k" onto a show by referring to a rooster's wake-up crow, and he's as pleased as he could be with that bit of cleverness. Ask teens what they think about Stern in Private Parts. Is he a renegade and an innovator? Or has he degraded public discourse, on the air and online?
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the disconnect between Stern's sweet and seemingly incompetent manner in Private Parts and his meticulous scheming designed to sneak profanity onto the airwaves and to exert his personal power over bosses and restrictive corporate policies. What do you think of Stern as a person?
Stern seems to think that if he says embarrassing things about himself first, he will disarm others of weapons to hurt him. Do you think this protects him from hurt or just shows off his insecurities?
Stern broke ground in forcing profane language into mainstream media. Do you think that this improved popular culture or dragged it down? Why?
- In theaters: March 7, 1997
- On DVD or streaming: October 24, 2017
- Cast: Howard Stern, Mary McCormack, Robin Quivers, Paul Giamatti
- Director: Betty Thomas
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for strong language, nudity and crude sexual humor
- Last updated: August 20, 2020
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