Picks and Pans Review: The Karen Carpenter Story

updated 12/19/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/19/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

CBS (Sun., Jan. 1, 9 P.M. ET)

B

This could be weird. A brother turns his own sister's death into a TV movie filled with costumes that Laura Ashley would consider frilly, songs that Barry Manilow would call sappy and self-examination that thirtysomething might think extreme. Here Richard Carpenter, as executive producer, dramatizes the death of his sister and singing partner, Karen, from anorexia leading to heart failure. The movie tries to be harshly honest, showing Richard's addiction to Quaaludes, admitting to a Carpenter family aversion to expressing emotion and making plenty of references to Karen's not eating: "How," she asks, "can anybody be too thin?" Mitchell Anderson as Richard, Louise Fletcher as Mom Carpenter and Peter Michael (The Cavanaughs) Goetz as Dad Carpenter try hard to bring life to this trauma, but sometimes they can't help looking like refugees from group therapy. All of this would be just too weird but for two saving graces: First, Cynthia (Fame) Gibb's performance as Karen and second, Karen's own amazing voice (heard in recordings of most of the Carpenters' big hits). Gibb gives her role generous warmth—perhaps even a little more than Karen herself managed to show when she wasn't singing. And then there is that voice. Whenever Karen did sing—even when she sang indisputably dorky songs—it was hard not to be won over by that voice. It still is.

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