The Beanie Bubble Review: Zach Galifianakis Shines in Understuffed but Entertaining Biopic

Apple's latest addition to the brand-biopic trend is another brash but breezy tale of capitalist enterprise.

In a bizarre extension of what has been the last decade plus of storytelling, brand awareness has gone from saturating fictional universes to fictionalized history. It feels like most rags-to-riches biopics we see these days are attached to an instantly recognizable product or company. It began loosely, flirting with projects like The Social Network or The Wolf of Wall Street. Then, we got Steve Jobs, The Founder, and even Tetris. Mileage varies on whether or not these stories are compelling without the cultural institution they spotlight, but they all share one thing in common: they manage to be entertaining regardless. 

Elizabeth Banks in “The Beanie Bubble,” premiering July 28, 2023 on Apple TV+.

Continuing in this trend is The Beanie Bubble, a biopic that tracks the titular rise and fall of Ty Warner’s (Zach Galifianakis) Beanie Baby empire but from the perspective of three women who have yet to have their story told: Robbie Jones (Elizabeth Banks), his original business partner turned life partner; Sheila Harper (Sarah Snook), his second life partner whose two daughters directly contributed to some of the most popular Babies; and Maya Kumar (Geraldine Viswanathan), a college freshman whose entrepreneurial spirit and online savvy helped cement Beanie Babies as an early internet sensation, not to mention long-term investments for what were then the pioneers of online resellers.

It’s fitting that a story so interested in multiple character studies is elevated so specifically by its leading cast. The central female three-fer are not giving career best performances by any means, rather performances that simply remind you of why these are three immensely compelling actresses; they all have incredible presence, strong likability, sharp wit, and can perform an engrossing monologue at the drop of a hat. 

Sarah Snook and Zach Galifianakis in “The Beanie Bubble,” premiering July 28, 2023 on Apple TV+.

However, ironically apropos, it is Galifianakis that steals the film, committing to a comedic performance that is quietly transformative. It goes beyond merely shaving his beard and (potentially) having lost weight; this kind of performance, Mark Zuckerberg meets Willy Wonka, sees the beloved Hangover star tackle something with sharp, bravura comedic timing as well as, in moments, intense vulnerability. It’s an incredibly impressive leading turn.

All that said, it is largely the cast that brings all of this nuance to the table. The script, written by co-director Kristin Gore, leaves much of the complexity of its own tragedy unexplored. The internal thought process behind Warner’s duplicity is largely off-screen and its female characters’ resounding comeuppance for Warner feels too clean (the film fails to mention Beanie Babies are still manufactured to this day and actually hit a second swell of demand in the 2000s). 

The script’s attempts at juggling all three perspectives is also muddled; it does so by balancing two distinct timelines: Warner and Jones pre-Beanie Babies and then Warner, Harper, and Kumar amidst the growth of the Bubble. It then attempts to culminate them in what is intended to feel like an exclamation point but winds up feeling like a question mark. It’s never difficult to follow the back-and-forth, rather hard to describe why it needed to be formatted like this in the first place.

Zach Galifianakis and Geraldine Viswanathan in “The Beanie Bubble,” premiering July 28, 2023 on Apple TV+.

What Gore lacks in her writing she makes up for in the co-director’s chair, alongside partner on and off-screen Damian Kulash. The two deliver a solid, occasionally stylish debut that finds engaging ways to embrace the indulgence and absurdity of the time period. Though the film feels restrained by Apple’s glossy, made-for-streaming color work and cinematography, there are enough moments where Gore and Kulash break that mold and deliver something exciting. Beyond that, the film’s other technical elements are superb: gorgeous sets, iconic costumes, and an energetic score that keeps the film’s breezy pacing still feel propulsive.

It’s hard to say if The Beanie Bubble can compete with what is an incredibly hype-worthy moment in cinema. Films like Barbie and Oppenheimer are driving film lovers mad in their disparity and duality, one a fictional gonzo comedy, the other a treacherously real-world story. Sitting in the middle is Gore and Kulash’s film, a satisfyingly funny stranger-than-fiction story told with plenty of gloss but not without an ounce of sadness and capitalist rage. Much like its plush subject matter, it’s understuffed, yet still colorful, charming, and memorable.

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The Beanie Bubble is now playing in select theaters. It will be available to stream exclusively on Apple TV+ beginning July 28.



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