Each is won over by Ty’s adorkable friendliness, and together they comprise what is actually the same story told three times over, with only the audience (and maybe Ty?) being aware of the cyclical nature of these ultimately parasitic relationships.
It’s an interesting approach, and yet the stop-go editing and narrative divide between the various protagonists never allows any of the leading women (who are apparently composite and fictionalized versions of real people whose names were changed) to ever lead the story. Instead each is hastily sketched in a screenplay by Gore. This choice could have even been disastrous if not for how strongly each role is cast. Snook, who is fresh off Succession, seems to especially take joy from playing a woman who cares about the family in her life, which for her is two young daughters. It’s a compelling turn to see Siobhan Roy now as a woman not bedazzled by the material things in life.
But materials is all this rather shallow film cares about—both in terms of its understuffed Beanie Baby toys (one of Ty Inc.’s admittedly inspired innovations) and all the ‘90s nostalgia overstuffed in the picture’s margins. Now that nostalgia trip movies are at last pulling from the era when I was growing up, I can appreciate a fun needle drop like DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat,” or certainly callbacks to the bizarre couple of years where adults were as excited as my fellow elementary schoolers about collecting Beanies. The movie’s repeated focus on contrasting Ty’s rise and fall with the turbulent presidency of Bill Clinton also raises interesting questions about writer and co-director Gore’s own childhood memories, since her father was Al Gore.
However, the time capsule elements of The Beanie Bubble are all surface level, even the infamous collapse of the titular speculation bubble is treated as little more than a foregone conclusion, with the crash happening off-screen during the requisite montage where brief paragraphs of text tell us what became of the characters. While these women may not care for Ty’s cloying commercialism, in the end, the film basks in a story that’s all about cashing in your proverbial stock at the right time.
The film is thus not really about the beanie bubble, nor is it about the three women who have to split leading the story opposite Galifianakis. In the end, the movie is what it insists it is not; the story of a domineering, egomaniacal man-child who will eventually steamroll everyone in his quest to be the center of attention. In realizing that character, Galifianakis gives one of the best performances in his career, eschewing what audiences might typically expect (including a beard) in favor of underplaying a fascinating asshole. But the movie never measures up to the quality of that performance.
Like the women in Ty’s life, it’s caught in a cycle of exploitation that, from the macro view of the audience’s perspective, is ultimately exhausting instead of illuminating, and is in service of a movie that has little more to offer the audience than to say, “Do you remember Beanie Babies?”