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The Only Barbie Movie You Need to See

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire April 23, 2014 at 2:10PM

Forget the big-screen reboot: Todd Haynes' samizdat "Superstar" is all you need.
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Superstar

Good news, everyone! After the box-office success with "The LEGO Movie," Sony Pictures has had the brilliant idea to turn yet a other plastic property into a movie: Barbie. Considering that the Mattel doll is the poster child -- or rather, the impossibly proportioned woman -- for the horrendous damage done to young girls' psyches by promoting images of unattainable beauty, she might not seem the best candidate for big-screen revival, but the press release sounds positively chipper:


From princess to president, mermaid to movie star, Barbie has done it all -- through her more than 150 careers, she has gained valuable experiences and shown her fans that anything is possible for a modern woman.  In her live-action big screen debut, Barbie will inhabit many of these roles, utilizing her personal and professional skills to inspire change in the lives of everyone around her. This comedic and contemporary film marks the second collaboration between Sony Pictures and Mattel, which are currently developing a film adaptation of "Masters of the Universe," based on Mattel's popular action figures.

While producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald promise "a modern take of the character," it's hard to think of a satisfying one that doesn't involve Barbie seeking treatment for an eating disorder and Ken coming out of the closet. 

But enough about a movie that doesn't exist yet. It doesn't matter what the Barbie movie looks like, because there's already one, and it's the only Barbie movie you need. Okay, so it's not exactly approved, and in fact has been kept out of official release for violating trademark and copyright, but Todd Haynes' "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story" is up on YouTube, and it's kind of amazing. (Should it get taken down, a little Googling will find you another copy somewhere else on the web.)

Told almost entirely with Barbie dolls, Haynes' movie was directed while he was studying semiotics at Brown, and it has some of the marks of a student project, not just in terms of its threadbare production values (which are hard to gauge since the only circulating copies are nth-generation dubs) but its elevation of ideas over emotion. Using Barbie, some of them whittled away to the metaphorical bone, to show how Carpenter wasted away from anorexia even as her the idyllic pop songs she created with her brother, Richard, were topping the charts is a sly trick, but it also literally and figuratively dehumanizes her, turning her personal tragedy into a symbol for the willful blindness of Nixon's Silent Majority. Even so, it's brilliant in a slightly poisonous way, and without a doubt eons better than whatever version of Barbie's story Hollywood will eventually come up with.


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