Haynes examines the Carpenter phenomenon without succumbing to the sensationalism which surrounded Karen's death at the age of 32. But in using Barbie dolls and minatures, his film pays less heed to the individual and more to the singer's status as a symbol for wholesome America. On the more intimate level, it links impossibly overbearing parents to Karen's anorexia nervosa, cutting between family rows, images of food, and on-screen text to outline the psychological basis and physical symptoms of the illness. But our emotional grasp on the subject is somewhat compromised by Haynes' methods. The use of dolls is inventive, and successfully conveys the idiocy of objectifying women's bodies, but it's also unintentionally funny to see them bobbing around on screen with voice-overs spouting deliberately clichéd dialogue. The effect is curiously distancing, and one is left with an uncomfortable sense that a real-life death is being trivialised.
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