Film Review: The Beanie Bubble
The Beanie Bubble
Directors: Kristin Gore, Damian Kulash
Now In Theaters and Streaming on AppleTV
Every so often, the world comes to a standstill as everyone obsesses over something truly absurd and silly, whether it’s Cabbage Patch Kids, Pokémon Go or NFTs. The Beanie Bubble tells the story of one of the most sought after—and fought over—items of the ’90s.
The Beanie Bubble is the heavily fictionalized story of Ty Warner (Zach Galifianakis), an awkward and wholly unsuccessful toy salesman in the ’90s who had a dream to create an “understuffed” stuffed animal, thereby making it more cuddly and giving it greater pose-ability. It seems Ty’s dreams will never be realized until fate steps in. Ty is introduced to Robbie (Elizabeth Banks), a neighbor who is in a rut and needs someone to believe in her, as well as Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan, The Broken Hearts Gallery), a young, internet savvy assistant with a vision on how to create demand by limiting supply. Ty, Robbie and Maya make “Beanies” a viable business, and when Ty falls for a single mother named Sheila (Sarah Snook), her daughter’s frustration over not being able to to bring her beanie to school in her backpack triggers something small in size and enormous in cultural impact. Badabing, badaboom—the beloved Beanie Baby is born with a big bang. Every American must have their favorite Beanie Baby … and Ty must have all the glory for himself.
Writer/director team Kristin Gore (daughter of former Vice President Al Gore) and Damian Kulash (frontman for the band OK Go) have crafted a witty and winning script. Gore’s family cause steers her toward recycling a lot of tropes from previous films about selfish men driven by success and fame, and this also explains the inordinate and distracting number of references to Bill Clinton. The film’s direction is more than competent if less than inspired, and the emphasis on ’90s pastel in the production design adds to overall flavor, accentuating Ty’s flamboyant personality and gaudiness.
Galifianakis is superb, and it’s quite a change to see the slob from The Hangover playing a clean-shaven and compulsively neat man who is obsessed with his appearance to the point of getting semi-regular facelifts. Ty is a childlike and childish man, and Galifianakis makes the “sparkle” of the childlike side hard to resist while making the childish side equally compelling in its despicability. Banks is always a welcome presence, and she brings well-rounded characterization. It’s Viswanathan’s Maya for whom I found myself rooting most, and I’m hoping the film is successful for no other reason than to boost her profile. Snook is sympathetic and real, and Delaney Quinn and Madison Johnson stole my heart as her daughters, Maren and Ava, without ever feeling cloying or cutesy.
The Beanie Bubble accomplishes what it sets out to do, entertaining audiences and telling an interesting story about recognizing a toxic relationship and embracing your self worth. It may take some liberties in the telling, though it’s still an effective and empowering message. –Patrick Gibbs