Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988)

7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 8/10

Totally odd movie, interesting style

Looks very cheap which is often intentional

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Superstar:  The Karen Carpenter Story

Studio:  Iced Tea Productions

Genre(s):  Musical/Drama

Release Date(s):  April 30, 1988

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated


The White House and Nixon! He’s honorable and likes our music!

Karen Carpenter lived a short tragic life.  Dying at thirty-two from as a result of anorexia nervosa, Carpenter left her haunting voice.  Karen and her brother Richard found fame and began rising in music and the sugary sweet duo found controversy in their clean cut image.  As their popularity increased, Karen began a self-destructive nosedive that couldn’t be stopped.

Written, directed, and edited by Todd Haynes, Superstar:  The Karen Carpenter Story was a short film biopic.  The movie was shot using Barbie dolls for most of the scenes and became a cult film after losing a lawsuit filed against Haynes by Richard Carpenter.  Despite not being able to be produced, the movie is readily found online.


Karen rockin’ the drums!

I grew up in a house with a lot of Carpenters music (among other music), so Karen Carpenter’s story was something I learned early.  She quickly became the poster child for the dangers of anorexia nervosa.  This movie is an odd blend of a real story that is stylized in a method that can take away from its message.

The movie follows the basic “story” of Karen Carpenter from her discovery, the Carpenters rise to fame, and her death due to her anorexia nervosa.  It takes what could be considered “liberties” on ideas of how Karen was treated by her family and insinuates some things about her brother (which partially could have led to the lawsuit).

The short’s style is what to notice.  Haynes recreated the Carpenters’ home and put a lot of detail into some of the miniatures.  The choice to use Barbies also makes a lot of sense.  Barbies are an unrealistic achievement for girls in form.  Haynes cut down the Barbie’s size for Karen through the movie and made her even thinner than the Barbie’s already unnatural curves.  He also mixes mediums.  The unfortunate aspect of the movie being banned is that the quality is generally quite low.


What’s wrong, Karen?

The movie, despite the lawsuit, could never be shown due to music rights.  Haynes loaded the short with music that wasn’t licensed.  In addition to the Carpenters there are other big ’70s acts and it was unrealistic for him to believe that it could be shown…leading to the idea that it would become an underground film.

Karen Carpenter’s story is a cautionary tale.  Fans of cult movies should seek out the movie because it kind of defines “cult film” since it isn’t “allowed” to be seen.  The movie feels like a student film and often has the quality of a student film, but it still is an interesting viewing.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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