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‘The Beanie Bubble’ Review: Powerhouse Actress Trio Banks, Snook And Viswanathan Take On Billionaire Boss Zach Galifianakis In Sly And Smart Biopic Of ’90s Toy Phenomenon


It is probably no accident that Apple has chosen this week to launch its own legendary toy biopic, The Beanie Bubble, in the shadow of Warner Bros’ about-to-be blockbuster Barbie. It can only benefit from the obvious connections and themes of female empowerment bubbling under the surface of both.

The latest in a Hollywood trend of 2023 movie releases focusing on origin stories of products (Air, Tetris, Flamin’ Hot, BlackBerry, Barbie), it proves there is fertile creative ground in these movies as each of them so far has much to recommend. This one, a feature directorial debut for the husband-and-wife team of Damian Kulash Jr and Kristin Gore (the latter also writing the screenplay), is a razor-sharp look at the Beanie Baby phenomenon of the 1990s, but one more interested in the relationships of the people behind it as much as the rise and fall of the lovable plush toys themselves.

Centered on self-centered founder of the Beanies, Ty Warner (Zach Galifianakis), the filmmakers use a clever non-linear approach spanning a couple of decades to tell the complicated story of three women, at different points, who played a key role in the success of Warner, who went from nothing to multibillionaire due to one good idea that grew into a sensation thanks to his creative chops — but mostly to those who saw more in it than even he did.

Starting off with Robbie Jones’ (Elizabeth Banks) involvement in 1983, she was a next-door neighbor in Warner’s apartment building who became friendly with the then-salesman, leading not only to a partnership to launch his idea of the plush toys but also an affair at a low point in her own marriage. The film also jumps around to the Clinton era of 1993 and two more women who come significantly into his life: lighting designer Sheila Harper (Succession‘s Sarah Snook) who he keeps waiting for an appointment at his lavish new mansion, and 17-year-old college student Maya Kumar (Geraldine Viswanathan) whose youth and ingenuity at the dawn of the internet becomes invaluable to the company even as she only gets paid hourly. Zipping back and forth between all three story threads, we see the giddy highs and deep lows in the interactions between the women and Warner as the Beanie Bubble blows up globally before it, like any fad, bursts.

Like Barbie (which briefly gets a mention as a possible Beanie partnership for Mattel), this is at its heart a genuine feminist story. Robbie’s smarts and ascension as a irreplaceable partner comes post-women’s lib but shows the cutthroat nature still existing between men and women in the business world. Warner would have been nowhere without her, but it became complicated due to his egomaniacal need for attention, as well as his own insecurity. Maya proves, well beyond her age, that knowledge of new marketing opportunities via the internet, and especially the fledgling eBay, is a huge plus, not the minus Warner sees as taking money from him. Taken for granted as she shepherds his business toward billions rather than millions, we see her frustration at not being properly rewarded. And then Sheila, mother of two girls and not looking for a man, becomes smitten and then engaged to Ty, who to be fair could really turn on the charm for her and her daughters before she sees the man (a bit of a womanizer) has a dark side.

All three women caught in this Beanie Bubble are clearly smart enough to navigate it without destroying their lives, but Gore’s script making Warner the moving target of their affection and disaffection slyly points out that having all the money in the world doesn’t necessarily make you a success, especially when you may find yourself odd man out.

Elizabeth Banks and Zach Galifianakis in Apple movie 'The Beanie Bubble'

Elizabeth Banks and Zach Galifianakis in ‘The Beanie Bubble’


Set in Chicago but shot in Atlanta, this Imagine Entertainment production is smart, engaging and eye-opening with juicy roles all around. Galifianakis, also an executive producer, goes against his Hangover-type comedic image to play a guy who, though talented and quirkily appealing in spurts, is ultimately crass and unlikeable, in fact a guy who could be a real sh*t. It is a tricky role to pull off because there is no question, unless you are a complete misogynist, that the sympathy and rooting factor lies with the women, and rightly so. It is a nice change of pace for the actor. Banks is terrific here as a woman looking to lift her life up, thinks she has hit the mother lode, but learns blind trust ain’t such a good thing in business. It is good to see Snook get to lighten up after enduring four seasons of hell as Shiv in Succession. The real scene stealer and dynamo here may be Viswanathan, who lights up the screen as the whip-smart college student who sees all the potential for the Beanie explosion in a new age. There are also nice supporting turns by Carl Clemons-Hopkins (Hacks) and particularly Tracey Bonner as a seen-it-all colleague at Ty Inc who doles out some hard truths to this trio as their angst rises along the way.

I realized watching this movie that even my wife and I still have Wrinkles, a Beanie Baby Dog we keep around as a good luck symbol. He still has his now-weathered Ty tag that says he came into the world May 1, 1996. Could I be sitting on a goldmine if this film succeeds in bringing back Beanie Babies? Warner’s toy business is still going and he is a hotel magnate as well, said to be worth $5 billion-plus according to Forbes. He was convicted of massive tax evasion in 2014 and remains a bit of a recluse; the last interview he gave was in the ’90s. He has not yet commented on this movie. and Apple is certainly anxious to see what he has to say (I am sure Apple’s lawyers have seen it). Although “inspired” by real people and events, some of the names have been changed for the key women in his life, but his was not. The filmmakers are not trying to claim this is a documentary, but much is certainly close to truth, as an opening graphic states. It is all based on the nonfiction book The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute by Zac Bissonette. I can’t imagine Warner, if he even gets Apple, is going to like what he sees. However, I did. A lot.

The Beanie Bubble hits theaters Friday and will begin streaming on Apple TV+ on July 28. Producers are Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Karen Lunder of Imagine.

Title: The Beanie Bubble
Distributor: Apple Original Films
Release Date: Friday, July 21 (select theaters); Friday July 28 (streaming)
Directors: Kristin Gore, Damian Kulash Jr.
Screenplay: Kristin Gore
Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Elizabeth Banks, Sarah Snook, Geraldine Viswanathan, Tracey Bonner, Carl Clemons-Hopkins
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr 50 min

Content Source: deadline.com


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