The Beanie Bubble (NC16)
110 minutes, available from Friday on Apple TV+
The story: In the early 1990s, Americans went wild for a stuffed toy which sold in stores for US$5 ($6.60) each, but could fetch thousands of dollars in the resale market. The product was the brainchild of entrepreneur Ty Warner (Zach Galifianakis), aided by three women: lover and business partner Robbie (Elizabeth Banks), wife Sheila (Sarah Snook) and employee Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan). This dark comedy is adapted from Zac Bissonnette’s 2015 non-fiction book, The Great Beanie Baby Bubble.
Sometimes, the central character in a dramatisation is a good person. More often, he or she is morally complicated. This is one of the times that a movie is based on the life of an awful human being.
It is a clever tactic because everyone knows how the Beanie Baby craze ended. They know a delicious comeuppance is on the cards.
Comedian Galifianakis is outstanding as Warner, a toy company boss with all the surface goofiness and warmth that one might expect of a maker of kids’ plush toys.
But the actor blends the man’s charming ebullience with his sinister side to create a seamless whole.
His Warner is how one would imagine a textbook narcissist to be – a monster whose bottomless appetite for love is matched only by his need for control.
The character is based on the real Warner, but the characters of Robbie, Sheila and Maya are inspired loosely by real persons in his orbit from the early 1980s to the late 1990s.
They represent the women who bore many of his burdens, emotionally and financially, but whose contributions were ignored when it came time for him to burnish his myth.
It is apparent that writer and co-director Kristin Gore is making a point about the unrecognised contributions of women that shore up nearly every white man hailed by the media as a lone genius.
That point is well worth making, but Gore – the daughter of former United States vice-president and climate activist Al Gore and his wife Tipper – fails to keep the didactic tone out of the women’s stories.
Banks, Snook and Viswanathan turn in great performances, but their roles are too underwritten to do justice to their efforts.
No matter. As a character whom viewers will come to love to hate, Warner the horrible boss is perfect.
Hot take: Watch this biopic to see a manipulative man-child get the downfall he deserves.