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'The Beanie Bubble' review: Nineties craze at the center of understuffed comedy


Courtesy of Apple TV+

 

Continuing the recent Hollywood trend of turning product origin stories into biopics, following “Air,” “BlackBerry,” and “Tetris,” “The Beanie Bubble” is trying to set the record straight on the worldwide beanie baby phenomenon that soaked up the airwaves in the mid-to-late nineties. But unlike the aforementioned titles, “The Beanie Bubble” doesn’t have the filmmaking prowess or engaging narrative spine to hold this underwritten comedy together. In another universe, this could have been spun in the mold of “The Big Short,” but in this universe, it’s played like a surface-level behind-the-scenes Wikipedia page with no sense of perspective. Never does it capture the madness around folks who did anything to snatch up limited edition beanie babies, how the company shot itself in the foot, nor a reason for audiences to actually care. It also features a stiff lead performance from clean shaven Zack Galifanakis who is playing the oddball business tycoon Ty Warner. 


That “The Beanie Bubble” never plants its feet in the sand on what it’s trying to convey (the fact it basically omits Ty Warner’s conviction for tax evasion should hint to the story it’s trying to tell) is disappointing. Beanie babies were all the rage growing up, and the movie’s failure at capturing the zeitgeist around the collectors movement is a huge missed opportunity. And that’s because directors Kristin Gore, who also wrote the screenplay, and Damian Kulash make the weird decision of jumbling several timelines together with multiple narrators, perspectives, and insights, which makes things incredibly confusing. These fractured bits equal a pretty lousy movie with nothing worth latching onto. Usually when you blend these elements together, it’s supposed to equal something meaningful. 


From the beginning, as it tinkers with timelines and voice overs, “The Beanie Baby” already sets itself up for failure. It nonchalantly volleys back and forth between Ty Warner’s origins: from struggling salesman to ultra wealthy founder of a massive toy company. We see Warner at his peak, when the collective stuffed animal enterprise was a multi-million dollar conglomerate, and at his lowest, when he inevitably betrays the woman he supposedly loves, played in this timeline by Elizabeth Banks, in the name of greed. From there, the movie isn’t so much about beanie babies, rather the tumultuous and toxic relationships he has with various women at points throughout his life. 


The other two who fall within his orbit are Sarah Snook’s Sheila, who takes a chance on Ty despite her insistence she’s not settling down due to her two daughters; and Geraldine Viswanathan’s Maya, a lowly office clerk for Ty’s company who slowly moved up the ladder only to get knocked down several pegs. Nevermind Maya was the brain trust behind making certain beanie babies exclusive and tapping into the, at the time, unknown but very lucrative online sellers market (notably, Ebay) which saw the fluffy stuffed animals exceed their worth ten fold. Of course, Ty doesn’t see the value in what Maya brings and is the kind of twee movie villain who will quickly take credit for something he didn’t do. The standoffs between these two ladies are painstakingly predictable and, worse, add minimal to what the movie is trying to say. 


So Ty Warner is a greedy, womanizing, and recklessly stupid CEO with no regard for listening to good feedback? Tell me something I don’t know!


Then again, “The Beanie Bubble” isn’t really saying anything of merit as the shifting perspectives and awkward transitions undercut a movie about a major toy company that was in total free fall. “BlackBerry,” “Air,” and, to a lesser extent, “Tetris” seemed to understand the companies they were profiling and told an engaging story that kept you invested in their outcomes. “The Beanie Bubble” is a tired, cliche-riddled puzzle of confusing scenes and underdeveloped subplots. 


This bubble has burst. 


Grade: D+ 


THE BEANIE BUBBLE debuts on Apple TV+ Friday, July 28th.  


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