Precocious II

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Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 16, 2015

You do credit the claims that this film was helpful in putting eating disorders on the map for a lot of people. Not as many as Karen herself of course, but still. Maybe apathy, ignorance, superstition and fear about anorexia/etc. caused co-writer/director Todd Haynes to strain and press like he does. There’s a valid idea here, playing the entire story out with Barbie dolls. It has to do with ideals of beauty, images of women, and the falsehood/objectification/infantilization of women contained in those ideals and images. The Barbies give a graphic sense of how difficult it can be for actual women to find themselves, and love themselves, in the midst of all of this falsehood.

But in the end, for me, Haynes’ strategy becomes one-sided, a one-trick-pony. The doll idea is cool to hear about, but it becomes tiresome in practice. And not just tiresome. After the surprise of it, after the ain’t-he-clever admiration, it may occur to the viewer that Haynes is guilty of that which he is condemning. The culture chews people up and spits them out, with no thought for their happiness or well-being. Well, celebrities may be part of the problem, or at least an emblem thereof. As such, they may seem like fair game. But this celebrity was a person, and she had an actual family beneath this smirky caricature, and that was her death that they’re waxing antical about. Putting eating disorders on the map? Maybe, a bit. Might even been part of the point. But mostly, punks are being punks. They’d actually grow out of it, and do better. That’s no reason to countenance the jerky they were, whatever novelty or nominal insight may have trailed behind.