With none of the saving graces of Tetris, Air, or Barbie, this ambition-free look at the Beanie Baby craze is pure mediocrity
Another week, another corporate biopic. The Beanie Bubble continues one of 2023’s less lovable cinematic trends, and this time it doesn’t even have the Russian spies of Tetris or the megawatt all-star cast of Air to make up for it. The result is a dull and alienating affair, asking us to buy into a true story about a company getting silly rich selling toys before crashing out, made loosely relevant by the comparison made between the Beanie Baby “investment” craze of the 1990s and the sort of speculative madness we saw recently with NFTs.
Zach Galifianakis gets the headline role as Ty Warner, the founder of Beanie Baby company Ty, but The Beanie Bubble takes as its heroes the three women that facilitated his rise to the top, a top worth billions of dollars, before he systemically betrayed each of them. From his co-founder Robbie (Elizabeth Banks) to his partner Sheila (Sarah Snook) to the ingenious early internet whizkid Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan) who took Beanie Babies online, it’s their stories that serve as the engine for the tale of how the bubble was blown up and then burst.
It’s a story that never finds a satisfying rhythm, jumping between four characters across multiple timeframes between the early ‘80s and late ‘90s, and the result is that you feel every minute of the hour and fifty it runs. A tricksy, non-chronological structure initially seems to put a bit of pep in the film’s step, but it soon simply adds to The Beanie Bubble’s lethal lack of focus. Is it a story of a very particular brand of American consumerism, a look at the cruel calculations of a greedy businessman, or an “inspiring” tale of girlboss capitalist feminism? Well, it’s all and none, each strand too weakly sketched to have any impact.
The script, from co-director Kristin Gore, is a generic mediocrity, right down to the closing shot that asks us to celebrate someone becoming a highly paid executive as its final mic drop. It’d be hard writing to breathe much life into, and the performances are similarly airless. Galifianakis has a bit more to play with Ty’s manipulative and mean streaks, but it’s hardly going to go down as one of his memorable roles, while Banks, Snook, and Viswanathan are on complete autopilot.
“Perfunctory” seems to be the name of the game here. There’s never a moment of grand acting or imaginative style (Gore and Damian Kulash’s direction is very personality-free), which seems ridiculous for an inherently goofy story about cuddly toys becoming their own economy. It all smacks of a low-budget re-enactment for a TV documentary on the same subject, never once justifying itself as a feature film.
With the massive success of Barbie and Hollywood’s penchant for learning all the wrong lessons any time a movie’s a big hit, stories about toys are likely to only get more numerous in the coming years. It’s a grim-looking future, but if those films look like Gerwig’s, it could well be bearable. If they look anything like The Beanie Bubble, it will absolutely not be.
The Beanie Bubble is released in UK cinemas on 28 July and is now streaming on Apple TV+.Where to watch