Al Gore’s daughter and her husband, the lead singer of the band OK Go, made a movie about Beanie Babies starring Zach Galifianakis and Elizabeth Banks. No, that’s not a Mad Lib; that’s real, and it’s really, really good. Better than probably anyone would’ve expected. In fact, The Beanie Bubble is one of the best films of the year.
Galifianakis stars as Ty Warner, though you may be more familiar with his name in lower-case white, encased in a red heart. Warner is the eccentric toy manufacturer behind Beanie Babies, and Galifianakis gives arguably his best performance yet as the impetuous, selfish man-child. However, it’s the women he meets along the way that helps shape the film and define its thematic functions. Non-linear but stylistically linked editing takes viewers through roughly 15 years of Warner’s life, from his early business partner and lover (Elizabeth Banks), to a later fiancée (Sarah Snook), to a young creative mind helping build his company (Geraldine Viswanathan).
Viswanathan spoke to MovieWeb about the pertinent themes of The Beanie Bubble, how she relates to her character, and her mom’s newfound interest in collectibles.
Geraldine Viswanathan at Her Sarcastic Best
The Beanie Bubble is mainly split throughout three time periods, oscillating between the 1980s with Banks’ character, the early ’90s with Banks and Snooks’ characters, and the mid-to-late ’90s with Viswanathan’s character, culminating at the start of a new millennium. Viswanathan has been excellent at delivering intelligent sarcasm and acerbic wit in recent films like 7 Days and Blockers, along with the delightful series Miracle Workers. She does more of that here, but there’s a genuine passion, ambition, and imagination to her character, which is continually threatened by the mood swings and self-destruction of her boss, Ty Warner.
Viswanathan’s character, Maya, was studying to be a doctor, but an internship at Ty Inc. leads to a variety of opportunities for her creative ideas to migrate into reality. Maya, like Banks and Snooks’ character, contributes more to the creation and success of Beanie Babies than Warner or, really, anyone realizes. It’s in the little things they do, the opportunities they provide, the offhanded suggestions they make. Even Warner’s soon-to-be step-children contribute.
Warner, however, is a megalomaniacal boy, and spurns them all. As such, the film interweaves the stories of these previously tangential women into a tapestry of truth, showing how the people behind the scenes are so often responsible for the success of powerful men.
Because of the interconnected timelines, audiences don’t often see the characters together; each moment in time reflect Ty’s relation to one women and how he exploits it, if even subconsciously. It works thematically, but it was also practical. “You know, were on our own,” said Viswanathan. “I feel like, even just scheduling wise, it was like we were all kind of in our own bubble, if you will.” She continued:
It’s like that in the movie, too. There’s not much overlap between them and the timelines are so varied. So I think it felt like separate journeys representing different things. But I think it’s in the writing, like the way that they’re different from each other but also suffering from the same things or experiencing a similar journey.
Maya and The Beanie Bubble
Viswanathan’s character, the youngest of the three professional women, represents a kind of shifting awareness. Ty screws over the other women, and they survive it in spades through ingenuity and hard work, but it really seems like Maya is indicative of a burgeoning perception among young people that the socioeconomic systems in capitalism, which enrich people like Ty Warner but not Maya, are inherently flawed. Maya has one of the film’s best lines in this regard — “What’s the big problem with disillusionment? I mean, who wants to live in illusionment?”
“I think Maya has kind of got this spunky naivety,” explained Viswanathan. “She’s so smart, and she could really have a big impact on the world and do a lot. It’s just what she’s allowed. What are the bounds of that by society?” Regarding that great line about disillusionment, Viswanathan almost disagrees. “It’s better to be hopeful and live in that sort of optimism, where anything is possible, than already be jaded, I guess. It’s so easy to be jaded in this world. We just have to hold on to happiness.”
Galifianakis’ Ty Warner character is certainly an impasse to the happiness, a constant reminder that some people have it easy and can simply push people out of their deserved recognition. He’s kind of an amalgam of allegories, a manifestation of patriarchy, capitalism, male arrested development, and more. What does Viswanathan see Ty as representing? “I think it’s everything. I think it’s a mixture of ego, men, patriarchy, capitalism, the American dream. I think it’s all wrapped up into one little freak of a man,” said Viswanathan with an embarrassed laugh. She elaborated:
Sorry, that’s not nice. I mean, not a little freak, but just a peculiar man. You know, he was brilliant in many ways, and very unique and inspired, but just governed by the wrong things and success, but at what cost? Yeah, I think he stands for a lot.
Brands, Beanie Babies, Busts
Sitting comfortably above all the deep themes of The Beanie Bubble, however, is an extremely colorful and entertaining film from Kristin Gore and Damian Kulash Jr. It’s probably the best in a series of “product films” that have been released this year — Air, Tetris, Flamin’ Hot, Blackberry, etc. Still, a film about Beanie Babies, directed by Gore and Kulash? It’s a unique pitch.
“Definitely. There was a lot going on there,” laughed Viswanathan. She continued:
“But, I mean, those OK Go music videos, I remember them so well. I thought that they were so innovative and creative in a way that was kind of insane. So the fact that he was making a movie, I was excited about what he was going to do visually, and then Kristin is such a smart person and writer. And I thought this script was so sharp, and then add Galifianakis in the mix, and I was like, ‘We’re cooking. We’re in the kitchen.'”
However, Viswanathan was never huge into Beanie Babies herself, and didn’t exactly get swept up in Beaniemania. Nonetheless, if you were alive in the ’90s, especially as a child, you were likely to have some kind of Beanie in your life. “I definitely had Beanie Babies,” said Viswanathan. “I wasn’t a collector. I wasn’t, you know, looking up the eBay prices, I wasn’t even aware of it going on. I think I was really a kid when it was happening, so it was just joyful, naive consumption of Beanie Babies.”
Watching The Beanie Bubble, you glimpse a sort of pattern in economics wherein something is willfully made sparse and pushed into being collectible, and a profit bubble develops; it’s usually a scam. Today, it’s NFTs, Bitcoin, and other digital forms of nonsense. “I have not gotten into any investment crazes. It just always feels so fickle to me,” explained Viswanathan. “But I will say that Beanie Babies would be something that I would want. Like, little stuffed animals? Great, that makes a lot more sense to me than like a photo on my phone.”
Viswanathan’s mother may take her up on that hypothetical. “My mom just recently, when I told her about the movie and told her about the premise, she was like, ‘Oh, you can invest in Beanie Babies?’ And she started doing it,” laughed Viswanathan. “I was like, ‘I think it’s over mom. I think that’s the opposite of what you want to do.'”
Well, Beanie Babies may no longer bring fortunes to collectors, but The Beanie Bubble is rich in humor, meaning, and artistry. It’s one of the best films of 2023. The Beanie Bubble will be released July 28th, exclusively on Apple TV+.