Apple, which distributed The Beanie Bubble, is one of several studios in the AMPTP. Until the AMPTP is willing to offer both the WGA and SAG a fair contract, both unions are on strike. Their demands, which include better streaming residuals and a promise that AI won’t negatively affect any jobs, are fair and I support both unions in their fight for an appropriate contract. Thus, this declaimer will sit atop all film and tv reviews I write through the end of both strikes.
Al Gore invented the Internet. You might have heard this claim, either as part of a meme or through someone who thought it to be true. It began as a simple quote from an interview Gore did with Wolf Blitzer in May 1999, taken out of context: “During my service in the U.S. Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” By this, he meant he was a proponent of computing technology throughout his career, going as far as to sponsor a successful bill known as the High Performance Computing Act of 1991, which directly funded the research that led to the creation of the Internet. And it’s true. Without him, the Internet wouldn’t exist in the same way it does today, but he didn’t invent it. Some would even argue he didn’t create it, either. Fast forward 23 years and Al Gore’s Daughter, Kristin Gore, along with her husband Damian Kulash, Jr., have written and directed the film equivalent of “Al Gore invented the Internet.” Apple’s The Beanie Bubble, a comedy about the rise and fall of Beanie Babies, turns what could have been a great biopic into a well-acted, yet highly fictionalized, mess of a film.
The Beanie Bubble, based on the book The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette, is the story of three women instrumental in the creation and popularity of Ty Warner’s (Zach Galifianakis, The Hangover) Beanie Babies: Robbie Jones (Elizabeth Banks, Pitch Perfect), Sheila Harper (Sarah Snook, Succession), and Maya Kumar (Geraldine Viswanathan, Blockers). Jones’ story begins in 1983 after the death of Warner’s father brings them together at their apartment complex. After a drunken night in the community pool turns into a business discussion, the two found Ty, Inc., a company dedicated to selling stuffed Himalayan cats. Fast forward to 1993 and Ty, Inc. is doing exceedingly well. Harper is a single mom of two daughters, charmed by Warner after he makes up for leaving her waiting at an appointment for three hours by sending a box of free plush animals. When Warner meets her daughters for the first time after the gift, they immediately suggest smaller animals with less stuffing, creating the idea for Beanie Babies. Due to this, Harper is enamored by Warner and becomes his fiancé. Finally, Kumar is hired as an intern around the same time, working for minimum wage at Ty, Inc. During a trade show, she comes up with the bright idea to make Beanie Babies limited edition. Later, we find out she’s also the mind behind their online presence. As the film proceeds, through flashbacks and flash-forwards, we learn what kind of man Ty Warner really is as all three women attempt to get their piece of the pie before the Beanie Baby bubble bursts.
You might be thinking that all seems too convenient to be true. That’s because it is. None of the women are real. Before The Beanie Bubble begins, a disclaimer reads: “There are parts of the truth you just can’t make up. The rest, we did.” While Ty Warner is a real person, and a much nastier man than even the film implies, Jones, Harper, and Kumar are fictionalized versions of Patricia Roche, Faith McGowan, and Lina Trivedi, respectively. While some aspects of their characters are translated one-to-one, most of it has been altered for narrative purposes. And yes, they all had roles in the rise of Ty, Inc., but their real stories are much more nuanced, and in some respects more depressing, than their film counterparts. Roche, for instance, claims Warner was abusive and had stalker tendencies, two things never addressed in the film. She was also never a co-founder. If you want the truth, skip this film and read the book instead. Or just go to Google.
What bothers me most about this film is, Gore and Kulash admit to fictionalizing the story to make it one of girl power, but it’s all surface level and condescending. Why is Sarah Snook’s character named Sheila? Because she’s Australian and ‘sheila’ is popular slang for woman. Maya Kumar drops out of her pre-med program at the behest of her Indian parents. The real Lina Trivedi, meanwhile, was a Sociology major who eventually got her bachelor’s degree. Instead of a well-rounded, well-written women, we get generic stand-ins and stereotypes. And the Beanie Baby bubble burst? Never even explained, it just happens. Because it must happen. Because that’s the only aspect of this film that’s true.
The only redeeming quality of this film is the performances. Everyone puts in 100%, and had the script been better, there might have been a couple Oscar nominations. Galifianakis, for example, is great as Ty Warner. You’re immediately charmed by him in the same way as all the characters in The Beanie Bubble are but hate him as he begins to unravel. The comedic moments are underplayed, and though he gets a few more-interesting moments, including a short dance number, he never goes too far into the realm of unbelievability. As for the women, the stand-out is Viswanathan. She gets more moments of levity than Banks and Snook, and the film is better for it. She’s a delight in every scene she’s in and makes what’s written as a stereotype feel so much more real. I have no doubt she has a wonderful future in Hollywood. As for Banks and Snook, they do the best they can with the hand they’re dealt. The drama feels real, even though the script doesn’t. It’s not their fault, and with the other actors, things could have been worse, but they were both terribly underserved in their respective roles.
Is this film worth watching for the performances? No, I don’t think so. Because so much of The Beanie Bubble isn’t accurate to reality, it can be quite maddening. And the sequences of events don’t help, either. I mentioned very briefly this film is full of flashbacks and flash-forwards but didn’t spend too much time on them. That’s because they all just make the film more confusing than it should have been. I’m sure Gore and Kulash will get another chance to direct a film because of who they are, but I won’t be watching it unless someone pays me. No film based on a real event should ever have completely fictional main characters, and for this reason, I can never recommend this film to anyone.