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Release Date: 07/28/23 [Apple TV+]
Genre: Comedy. Drama.

Studio: Apple Original Films. Imagine Entertainment.

"Ty Warner was a frustrated toy salesman until his collaboration with three women grew his idea into the biggest toy craze in history." 


Everyone loves a good movie that’s “based on a true story.” Fortunately, 2023 has been filled with them. This year alone we’ve gotten films about the creation of the Air Jordan, the Blackberry, Tetris, and even Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. But this week there’s yet another film hitting theaters about the single most important human invention of the 20th century - one that literally set the world ablaze and (arguably) ended a war: Beanie Babies. 


Now, as the title of the film The Beanie Bubble suggests, it chronicles the rise and fall of the insanely popular stuffed toys created by American businessman H. Ty Warner in the 1990s. Unlike most other films based on true stories, it opens with an ominous yet hilarious title card which teases the audience about what they’re watching. “There are parts of the truth you just can’t make up,” it reads. “The rest, we did.” The next two hours are a fever dream. Not just because it’s a genuine challenge to distinguish fact from fiction, but because it effectively pinpoints the origin of modern day greed.


When we first meet Warner, played by an unrecognizable Zach Galifianakis, he has nothing. With no job, no money, and no one to share his nothing with, he’s an absolute nobody. Then he meets the first of three women that will change the course of his life forever.


Elizabeth Banks plays Robbie, an equally down on her luck woman who he begins his enterprise with. Sarah Snook plays Sheila, the woman whose love and children inspire Warner. Geraldine Viswanathan plays Maya, Warner’s assistant who does the thankless job of practically running the company. As the company slowly expands so does Warner’s gratitude. But the bubble the title alludes to doesn’t just refer to the truly unbelievable value the stuffed animals accrue, but Warner’s ego too. The more money he makes, the more he begins to discount the three relationships. As time moves on, he has to learn the hard way that there are some things in life you can’t put a price tag on.


Not to say that this is a career-best performance from Zach Galifianakis, but it is by far the best non-comedic role he’s played to date. It has nothing to do with how well he plays Warner. The real life billionaire is so secretive that no one knows what he’s like, but that doesn’t matter here. What’s so captivating about his performance is how quickly he transforms from a likable underdog to a despicable con artist. If there’s one thing anyone should take away from this film it’s just how money can transform a person. Galifianakis demonstrates that with uncomfortable ease. 


Banks, Snook, and Viswanathan are all good too. Now, Banks’ Robbie has a parallel arc to Warner’s. However, along the way she recognizes how the money begins to change her. When Warner inevitably stabs her in the back, it makes it easier for her to walk away. Make no mistake, she does not lose in the film. She finds something a lot more powerful to harness than money, and it’s up to the audience to decide if she’s truly just as bad as Warner or if she just continued to do what she could to survive until the bubble burst. 


Snook’s Sheila is the heart of the film. It makes sense considering that both she and her daughters were the muses for some of the first - and most popular - Beanie Babies. She isn’t in the film nearly enough as she should be, but her presence and her effect on Warner are always felt. So much so that the only time the audience can feel how far Warner has fallen from grace is when we see him betray her. It’s from that point forward that he even becomes aware of his transformation. But he’s so consumed and comfortable with greed that he chooses to move forward.


Viswanathan’s Maya is the easiest character to relate to because, like the audience, she just so happens to stumble on this world. When we first meet her character, she’s a wide-eyed teen, straight out of high school, who is looking for a job. While her likeability and quick thinking allow her to climb up the ranks of the company through the years, she’s never actually compensated for it. While money is a main motivator for both Warner and Robbie, she only ever wants recognition. As Warner passes her over time after time, she understandably becomes bitter. At the same time, the fact that she has not become corrupted by money keeps her humble and acts as another stark contrast to how greed works. 


The film is arguably directed by the coolest pair of directors of any movie you’ll see this year. Kristin Gore, who also wrote the script, is former Vice President Al Gore’s daughter. She is joined by the musician Damian Kulash, who is mostly known for directing his band OK Go’s iconic and viral music videos. Together the two bring a distinguishable flare that few other films inspired by true stories have - one that will keep the viewer constantly invested and (as promised) challenge their perception of the truth. The opening stands as one of the film’s best sequences, as it shows a literal explosion of Beanie Babies on a highway. The way in which the world seemingly stops as people fly out of their cars to essentially pick up toys captures the excitement and absolute absurdity at the peak of the craze. Not all of the duo's stylistic choices work though. More specifically, there’s one thing the duo does that hurts the film quite a bit.


Much of the film is told out of sequence. While this could be attributed to the way the script was written, the way it is shot is admittedly confusing. Although some occasional voice overs from Robbie, Sheila, and Maya provide hilarious context to certain situations, there are so many jumps between the past and the present that it does seem hard to follow when some events really happened. There’s even a pivotal reveal in the third act that will throw some people off because it relies on a flashback. That’s not to say that it makes the story hard to follow, but it’s an unnecessary decision that detracts from the overall impact.

As distracting as its format may be, The Beanie Bubble is still good. Above everything, it’s an unconventional commentary on Capitalism that highlights the world’s unhealthy obsession with material goods and backlogs the birth of collector culture. Whether you’re a buyer, a seller, or anything in between it will no doubt open your eyes to the reality that the only thing that has any real value in this world is the way you’re remembered.

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