The Karen Carpenter Story (1989)

Cynthia Gibb as Karen Carpenter in The Karen Carpenter Story (1989)

She'd Only Just Begun

To be honest I know little of The Carpenters, I recognize their music when I hear it, especially the beautiful voice of Karen Carpenter but would never call myself a huge fan. Now that could mean that when I watched "The Karen Carpenter Story" I believed everything that this made for TV biopic told me but then one thing I do know and that is that Richard Carpenter has stated there is a lot of poetic licence going on. As such whilst "The Karen Carpenter Story" is entertaining and is full of The Carpenters' wonderful music it is more of a movie for fans of their music and who know a little rather than for those who want the truth when it comes to Karen's battle with Anorexia and Richard's battle with Quaalude addiction.

Now you could basically split "The Karen Carpenter Story" into 3 strings which constantly interweave, there is the story of The Carpenters and how they came to be successful, then there is the music and then there are the issues with Karen's Anorexia and Richard's Quaalude addiction. Now the music side of this is a constant and barely a few minutes pass before we get another music filled scene as Cynthia Gibb as Karen Carpenter mimes to one of the songs or a song is used as background music. And trust me if you like the beautiful voice of Karen Carpenter and the songs you are going to be in heaven as in truth it feels like "The Karen Carpenter Story" is a movie made more for the fans of the music than for those who want the real story.

Mitchell Anderson as Richard Carpenter in The Karen Carpenter Story (1989)

But we also get the story of how The Carpenters came to be, taking us from Richard and Karen winning local talent shows to getting their first contract and reaching the top of the Billboard. All of which is very much a simplified look at how they came to be, getting across that Karen not only had a wonderful voice but was also a talented drummer who felt safe behind the drums. But there is plenty which is missed out from this rise to fame although it is entertaining when you see Richard hearing "We've Only Just Begun" on a TV advert and realising it would be a perfect song for Karen. I suppose with this being "The Karen Carpenter Story" some of what is missed out is not so important but it does contribute to the fact this isn't as accurate as it could be.

Then we have what should be the most interesting and hard hitting aspect of "The Karen Carpenter Story", Karen's battle with Anorexia and Richard's Quaalude addiction. Now in fairness it suggests certain things, Karen's anorexia was initially a case of feeling fat and wanting to be slim as a performer but also an element of control as she felt she had no control in other parts of her life. But the thing is that it feels white washed; it suggests there was issues between Karen and her mum with Agnes Carpenter being controlling but never goes the whole hog to make it feel realistic. Not just that because we have names changed when it comes to relationships such as the man Karen married and also the reason for the failure of the marriage. Basically whilst getting across the troubled life of Karen Carpenter liberties have certainly been taken not only to white wash some things but also to make it more dramatic.

Now I've already mentioned that I wouldn't call myself a fan of The Carpenters and I can't say how authentic Cynthia Gibb as Karen Carpenter or Mitchell Anderson as Richard are when it comes to the looks and mannerisms. What I can say is that they both play watchable characters, slightly false characters in how nice they some times come across but watchable when it comes to telling the story and the drama. And to be honest whilst Cynthia Gibb mimes most of the musical numbers she does it so well she makes it look like she is singing and meaning the words rather than just lip-syncing.

What this all boils down to is that first and foremost "The Karen Carpenter Story" is entertaining and a delight for fans of The Carpenters with so much of their music used through out the production. But like so many biopics it has a feel about it of being sanitized with the truth slightly white washed whilst extra elements have been used to try and increase the drama.