Superstar - The Karen Carpenter Story review by The Grim Ringler

Talk about surreal, Superstar is the by now infamous early work by director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Velvet Goldmine) that depicts the life and death of pop singer Karen Carpenter with Barbie Dolls, and does it in a believable and darkly convincing manner.

Superstar begins with Karen as a young woman just joining her brother as the singer to accompany his music. She is young and nave and doesnt think she has what it takes but before we know it The Carpenters are suddenly topping the charts with syrupy sweet hit after hit and Karen is the toast of the music industry. After a nasty comment by a music reviewer Karen becomes obsessed with her weight and begins taking Ex-Lax to maintain her figure and to keep from becoming unattractive, much to the chagrin of her family. Her family begins pressuring Karen to stop trying to lose weight, telling her that her selfishness will ruin the singing duo. And as the pressure to be perfect for her family and for her fans mounts, the stress begins taking its toll on Karen as her anorexia gets worse and worse and she begins to physically fade away. Domineered by her brother and parents, Karen has no escape from her pressures and the weight of her fame begins crushing her. Karen hears of a woman that is writing a book on anorexia and that has gone through and survived what Karen is going through and she reaches out to her in an effort to save herself, and it appears as if she may just save her own life. But just when she has fooled her friends and family that shes ended her anorexia, Karen begins down her deadly path again, this time finally managing to end her own life and becoming yet another talented young musician that was killed by the pressures of fame.

The film is shocking for two reasons because it was made so soon after Karens death and because it was made entirely with Barbie Dolls. At first you are taken aback to see this very dark, very sad story acted with the use of dolls but before you can think twice you are drawn into the story and well done voice acting and forget that these are but dolls. The sets that were made for this film are very elaborate and oddly beautiful, as is the use of a lot of unlicensed popular music from The Carpenters and many other performers. The film is very brief forty minutes but manages to capture the tragedy of this beautiful young woman with the powerful voice and one filmmakers ideas about what lead to her death. And naturally much of the film is speculation, but Haynes portrays the story with such care that never once does he lay blame on anyone other than Karen, simply insinuating that her family and the stress of her career lead her to damn herself in the end.

Superstar is a very beautiful film but one you wont easily find. Since it was made 1. with Barbie dolls and 2. about a very controversial subject and 3. using a lot licensed music you will not find an official release of the film. I would wager if you checked the internet or a file-sharing program you could probably turn it up. My friend found it on a site that lets you download songs and movies that were banned, though the site escapes me at the moment. It may be a bother to find it but I assure you it is well worth the time it will take to track it down. I highly recommend this film, if for no other reason than because Haynes managed to take a very dark subject and portrayed it with sincerity and courage while using a medium that could have been used to mock Karen, her struggles, and her tragic life and death. A very strange, very beautiful journey into the darker side of fame.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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