Zach Galifianakis plays Ty Warner, someone who will obviously betray his personal and professional relationships because there’s no movie otherwise. From the beginning, “The Beanie Bubble” plays with time and POV in baffling ways. It jumps back and forth between the early days of Warner’s eventual stuffed plaything empire and those that unfolded when Beanie Babies became a capitalist dream before crashing like the truck accident that scatters bright stuffed toys across the freeway in slo-mo behind the opening credits. It’s hard to discern initially, but this is basically the story of three women who get drawn into Ty’s toxic orbit. The desire to tell a story from multiple perspectives is ambitious, but it’s ultimately fatal when one realizes that none of these stories have been fleshed out beyond their basic character traits. And watching talented performers get stranded by this inert script can be incredibly frustrating.
The talented performers include Elizabeth Banks as Robbie, the woman who met Ty in the apartment building they shared and formed a quick friendship. After a few drunken conversations, Ty sold his deceased father’s antiques, and the two started a business together in 1986, Ty Inc. Of course, as the company expanded and Beanie Babies were developed in 1993, Ty pushed Robbie aside, and Banks sells the betrayal aspect of this business narrative well even as her character feels too much like a device for the other three. The constant jumping back and forth to early Ty Inc in the ‘80s and the breakout success of the ‘90s is like little more than a reason to pay for more pop music needle drops. And the weirdest thing is how much it drains the film of arguably its most important chapters, never illustrating how Ty/Robbie went from dreamers to cynical purveyors of mass consumption because the film is never allowed to gain momentum or track development. It’s one of the most bafflingly constructed scripts in years.
Sarah Snook of “Succession” fame makes out a little better as Sheila, who meets Ty in a moment when she’s not really looking for love or commerce, but ends up marrying him, and her daughters help design the Beanie Babies. Again, that Ty will eventually push Sheila and even his stepdaughters aside for financial gain is depressingly inevitable, but Snook gives her admirable best to another 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 run, creating the demand for collectors that would drive the phenomenon. She also is credited with pioneering internet commerce, which was the lighter fluid for this craze, as collectors compared notes in the early days of chat rooms.