Zach Galifianakis plays Ty Warner, someone who will undoubtedly betray his personal and professional relationships because there is no other movie. From the start, The Beanie Bubble plays with time and POV in surprising ways. It jumps back and forth between the early days of Warner’s eventual stuffed-toy empire and those that unfolded when Beanie Babies became a capitalist dream before crashing like the truck accident that dispenses glowing stuffed toys across the highway shortly after the opening credits. It’s hard to tell at first, but this is essentially the story of three women who are drawn into Ty’s toxic orbit. The desire to tell a story from multiple perspectives is ambitious, but ultimately fatal when one realizes that none of these stories are fleshed out beyond their basic character traits. And watching talented performers trapped by this inert script can be incredibly frustrating.
Talented performers include Elizabeth Banks as Robbie, the woman who met Ty in the apartment building they shared and struck up a fast friendship. After a few drunken conversations, Ty sold his late father’s antiques and the two started a business together in 1986, Ty Inc. Of course, as the company expanded and Beanie Babies developed in 1993, Ty pushed Robbie aside and Banks sells the betrayal aspect of this business device to the other three characters, even as a different character. The constant bouncing back and forth between Ty Inc’s early ’80s and late ’90s success is little more than reason to pay for more pop needle drops. And the strangest thing is how much it empties the film of its arguably most important chapters, never illustrating how Ty/Robbie went from dreamers to cynical purveyors of mass consumption, because the film is never allowed to pick up momentum or follow the development. It’s one of the most constructed scenarios in years.
Sarah Snook of “Succession” fame fares a little better as Sheila, who meets Ty at a time when she’s not really looking for love or trade, but ends up marrying him, and her daughters help design Beanie Babies. Again, the fact that Ty will eventually push Sheila and even his stepparents aside for financial gain is extremely inevitable, but Snook gives her admirable best to an otherwise shallow character. So does Geraldine Viswanathan as Maya, the woman who made history in two ways (at least as presented in the film). At a toy fair, she tells a customer looking for sold-out Beanie Babies that they were a limited set, creating the demand for collectors who would fuel the phenomenon. She is also credited with pioneering online commerce, which was the easiest fuel for the craze, as collectors compared notes in the early days of chat rooms.