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The Beanie Bubble

This very strange cultural moment in which filmmakers are fascinated with business rise-and-fall stories from the ‘80s and ‘90s (“Air,” “BlackBerry,” “Tetris,” and more) has brought us to beanie babies. Apple TV+’s “The Beanie Bubble” unpacks the fad that turned stuffed animals into collector’s items, making them an absolute obsession for millions. However, you’ll learn little more from “The Beanie Bubble” than you would from a Wikipedia page, and you’ll have slightly less fun doing so. A frustratingly inert film in every way, "The Beanie Bubble" has no POV and nothing to say. It’s a film that never really takes a stance, offers an opinion, or even sketches interesting characters, partly because of co-director Kristin Gore’s (daughter of the former Vice President) writing decision to jumble the chronology and tell this story via multiple narrators. Instead of offering multiple perspectives, these various voices blend into a dull hum in this skeleton of a film with absolutely no meat on its bones.

Zach Galifianakis plays Ty Warner, someone who will obviously betray his personal and professional relationships because there’s no movie otherwise. From the beginning, “The Beanie Bubble” plays with time and POV in baffling ways. It jumps back and forth between the early days of Warner’s eventual stuffed plaything empire and those that unfolded when Beanie Babies became a capitalist dream before crashing like the truck accident that scatters bright stuffed toys across the freeway in slo-mo behind the opening credits. It’s hard to discern initially, but this is basically the story of three women who get drawn into Ty’s toxic orbit. The desire to tell a story from multiple perspectives is ambitious, but it’s ultimately fatal when one realizes that none of these stories have been fleshed out beyond their basic character traits. And watching talented performers get stranded by this inert script can be incredibly frustrating.

The talented performers include Elizabeth Banks as Robbie, the woman who met Ty in the apartment building they shared and formed a quick friendship. After a few drunken conversations, Ty sold his deceased father’s antiques, and the two started a business together in 1986, Ty Inc. Of course, as the company expanded and Beanie Babies were developed in 1993, Ty pushed Robbie aside, and Banks sells the betrayal aspect of this business narrative well even as her character feels too much like a device for the other three. The constant jumping back and forth to early Ty Inc in the ‘80s and the breakout success of the ‘90s is like little more than a reason to pay for more pop music needle drops. And the weirdest thing is how much it drains the film of arguably its most important chapters, never illustrating how Ty/Robbie went from dreamers to cynical purveyors of mass consumption because the film is never allowed to gain momentum or track development. It’s one of the most bafflingly constructed scripts in years.

Sarah Snook of “Succession” fame makes out a little better as Sheila, who meets Ty in a moment when she’s not really looking for love or commerce, but ends up marrying him, and her daughters help design the Beanie Babies. Again, that Ty will eventually push Sheila and even his stepdaughters aside for financial gain is depressingly inevitable, but Snook gives her admirable best to another shallow character. So does Geraldine Viswanathan as Maya, the woman who made history in two ways (at least as presented in the film). At a toy fair, she tells a customer looking for sold-out Beanie Babies that they were a limited run, creating the demand for collectors that would drive the phenomenon. She also is credited with pioneering internet commerce, which was the lighter fluid for this craze, as collectors compared notes in the early days of chat rooms.

What story are we telling with “The Beanie Bubble”? No one ever answered that question. The end montage tries to make it about the American hustle for a new trend like NFTs or Pokemon, and yet we haven’t been watching that movie, just a series of scenes loosely based on things that possibly happened. “The Beanie Bubble” is another product from the corporate biopic factory line, but this one wasn’t examined enough for quality control before it was shipped. You should probably return it.

In theaters today. On Apple TV+ July 28th.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

The Beanie Bubble movie poster

The Beanie Bubble (2023)

Rated R for language.

Cast

Zach Galifianakis as Ty

Elizabeth Banks as Robbie

Sarah Snook as Sheila

Geraldine Viswanathan as Maya

Tracey Bonner as Rose

Carl Clemons-Hopkins as Jeremy

Hari Dhillon as Arjun Kumar

Ajay Friese as Deshad

Sweta Keswani as Neeti Kumar

Kurt Yaeger as Billy

Director

Writer (based on the book "The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute" by)

Writer

Editor

Composer

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