It solely seems like a decade in the past that WeWork CEO Adam Neumann was ousted from the corporate he cofounded, in spectacularly public trend. In fact, it has been lower than two years. Already, although, Hulu’s documentary about WeWork’s rise and fall seems like a glance again at one other period.
Partially, that is as a result of the pandemic has made every little thing that got here earlier than it appear impossibly distant. However it’s additionally as a result of WeWork, as portrayed Jed Rothstein’s WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn, stands as an ideal encapsulation of the occasions it got here up in, combining the hustle tradition and tech boosterism of the 2000s and early 2010s right into a boiling poisonous stew.
At its greatest, WeWork sketches a damning image of the cultural forces that made the entire WeWork debacle attainable within the first place. However too usually, it slips into the identical entice that so many different folks did on the time, placing Neumann himself on the middle of the universe.
In equity, Rothstein clearly sees Neumann (who declined to be interviewed for the film) for the bullshit artist he’s. The movie opens with behind-the-scenes footage from a advertising pitch video, through which Neumann flubs his traces again and again and will get extra flustered every time. My favourite(?) piece of nonsense comes just some minutes later, from a unique interview through which he is making an attempt to clarify what WeWork’s mission assertion is:
“The world has shifted. It was an I world. Proper? iPhone, iMac, all about me me me. If you happen to take the ‘me’ and also you flip it, and also you get the ‘we,’ you perceive that we’re about to alter the best way folks work and the best way folks reside, however extra importantly, change the world.”
As a reporter scoffs of the corporate’s grandiose mission statements a lot later within the film: “For god’s sake, you are renting fucking desks.”
Neumann’s bloviating comes off as so transparently vapid that it undercuts any sense of the irresistible charisma he is described as having. Certainly, it is tough to not side-eye the enterprise neighborhood that fell for his con as exhausting as they did. Actually? I saved questioning. That is the man you let sucker you for thus a few years? But even because it goes out of its method to deflate his rumored magnetism, it retains getting sucked again into his orbit.
In talking-head interviews, journalists and ex-employees breathlessly recount anecdotes that are supposed to illustrate the person’s ambition or conceitedness. Typically they work; one tiny however telling story is that WeWork administration had the workplace’s in-house espresso stand swap the definitions of “latte” and “cappuccino” reasonably than educate Neumann to get them straight. (One other element that is actually neither right here nor there, however feels extra-juicy: We’re reminded that Neumann’s spouse is cousins with Gwyneth Paltrow, as a result of in fact Gwyneth Paltrow is by some means concerned on this rip-off.)
Simply as usually, although, these tales solely appear to disclose how taken this film is by any and all issues Neumann. An early worker recites the primary work e-mail she ever received for him, not simply phrase for phrase however punctuation level by punctuation level: “‘Good morning,’ interval. ‘Let’s construct the biggest networking neighborhood on the planet,’ and never even a interval on the finish,” she says firmly, as if which means one thing. What’s odd is not that this worker remembered a reasonably innocuous message, or that she shared it throughout her interview with the filmmakers. It is that Rothstein thought this tidbit value together with.
Too usually, the movie slips into the identical entice of placing Neumann himself on the middle of the universe.
The blinding highlight on Neumann most likely makes WeWork simpler to comply with, but it surely retains an excessive amount of else out within the shadows. We by no means do study, as an illustration, how WeWork’s different cofounder, Miguel McKelvey, factored into both his firm’s meteoric ascent or its fiery crash. Nor can we hear a lot about other allegations and controversies round WeWork that do not instantly contain Neumann. The doc scratches at deeper insights about capitalism or neighborhood, with out ever fairly breaking by into that richer floor.
We do get a way that one thing extra fascinating is skulking across the edges of Neumann’s story — significantly within the second half of the documentary, which begins to lean extra closely on interviews with ex-employees scarred by their expertise. Probably the most compelling, and most heartbreaking, materials belongs to the earnest workers who purchased into Neumann’s bullshit wholesale, who let themselves consider WeWork was one thing far larger and extra significant than it was.
There’s Neumann’s former assistant, who was too inexperienced to see Neumann’s bloviating PR-speak for what it was, and who went into an emotional tailspin after dropping what she noticed as not only a job or a profession however a life’s goal. There is a man who labored at WeWork and lived at WeLive (basically dorms for grownups) and stopped having mates outdoors the corporate all collectively, however who now resents that he was used as a prop to advertise WeWork’s hip younger picture. A lawyer, older and fewer gullible than the remaining, laughs when recalling an statement made by a contracted safety guard at one in every of WeWork’s many company-mandated self-promoting bashes: “This can be a cult.”
And it does really feel quite a bit like one, no less than so far as we are able to inform. As flimsy as WeWork’s supposed beliefs proved to be, as hole as Neumann’s snake-oil pitch actually was, it develop into tragically obvious that he was shrewd about exploiting a very Millennial perception within the hustle and yearning for neighborhood. His work-hard-play-hard pitch to WeWork employees and clients resonated not as a result of it was new, however as a result of it dovetailed so neatly with broader cultural messaging about infinite exhausting work as the very best supreme of human existence.
His former assistant remembers her therapist reminding her that “that firm just isn’t your value,” and whereas it is a legitimate level, it is also one which looks as if it should not have wanted to be mentioned within the first place. That it did would appear to level to a higher ailing that goes far past a single poisonous founder or a single mismanaged startup.
However it’s a dialog WeWork does not appear able to have simply but. The dialog it does wish to have is a barely dazed one about how the saga of WeWork is completely nuts — when in actuality, so most of the particulars really feel exhaustingly acquainted. Working example: It wasn’t till days after I noticed the film that I noticed a number of the anecdotes I assumed they’d ignored had been ones I would heard not about Neumann however about former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, a completely totally different embattled tech mogul who left the corporate he cofounded in late 2019.
WeWork ends with a last-ditch grasp for bigger that means, nodding to COVID-era loneliness with photographs of interview topics donning or eradicating masks. In a voiceover, one ex-employee posits that the complete WeWork debacle was actually about human want for neighborhood in a world with too little of it in these unsure occasions, or one thing like that. He barely appears like he believes his personal phrases, and perhaps he should not. They’re nice however empty ones that gesture at profundity with out really delivering it.
They’re, in different phrases, the form of highfalutin sizzling air Neumann spouted all the best way to that grossly inflated $47 billion valuation. WeWork’s utility as a cautionary story is not actually doubtful, given how dramatically it flamed out, and the way clear a lot of its failings look on reflection. It is simply not all that clear WeWork understands what exactly the story of WeWork is meant to warning in opposition to.