Hollywood currently loves outsider origin stories behind iconic '80s and '90s brands: witness the cheerful celebratory vibes of Air, Flamin’ Hot, Tetris… But this twisty, often hilarious takedown of tycoon Ty Warner’s Beanie Babies empire takes a different tack, cleverly building into a comic cautionary tale about the plush-toy investment craze that stoked '90s consumer greed to billion-dollar heights.
First-time directors Kristin Gore (who also scripted) and Damian Kulash frame one man’s American Dream as three woman’s nightmare, as co-founder Robbie (a deliciously tough Elizabeth Banks), online-marketing pioneer Maya (perky Geraldine Viswanathan), and single mum Sheila (an understated Sarah Snook) get swept up by Zach Galifianakis’ Warner, a success-hungry narcissist.
Gore and Kulas weave the women’s arcs into a compelling if choppy story. The timeline darts back and forth from Warner’s Robbie-fuelled '80s transformation (he starts out as a small-time stuffed-cat salesman) to the Maya-managed US-wide '90s explosion of limited-edition Beanie Babies as investment buys.
Gore (who has creative form with misbehaving billionaires, having produced 2014’s Foxcatcher) cleverly contrasts the women’s individual experiences of how Warner’s love-bombing charm becomes harm, as their business collaborations fall foul of his ego.
Though the stories are theirs, Galifianakis’ affectionate, eccentric Willy Wonka-style Warner is the film’s magnet, a dream-driven man-child who’s obsessive about his plush products (“They have to make EYE CONTACT, dammit!”), and funniest when sparring with Banks’ furious Robbie.
Clad in popping pastels and period pop tunes, the film also scores nicely as a sly social satire, stylishly recreating the chaotic (real-life) Atlanta freeway brawl, when an overturning mega-truck rained Beanie Babies on amazed commuters. Gripping stuff(ed)...
The Beanie Bubble is in US cinemas on July 21 and in UK cinemas and Apple TV+ on July 28.