The problem with making a documentary about a showman is that it’s hard not to get caught up by him. WeWork: Or the making and breaking of a $ 47 billion unicorn is so focused on the turbulent WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann that it ends up losing the plot.
WeWork, as you may recall, was the subject of a massive scandal surrounding the disclosures in the S-1 document required for the IPO. (The company is now trying to get public using a SPACwhich means someone other than the SEC is doing the due diligence.) We workpremiering on Hulu on April 2, director Jed Rothstein’s abbreviated retelling of the events surrounding the troubled company – but many of the strange details that made the WeWork story so compelling are lost.
Some of Neumann’s images are convincing. In the first few minutes of the documentary, we see a feral Neumann attempting to film a video for his IPO roadshow; very quickly he lifts one leg, lets out an audible fart and then scolds the crew for laughing too long. But the documentary’s focus on Neumann’s crazy antics in a way obscures its true army of enablers, from Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son to its co-founder, Miguel McKelvey, barely mentioned.
In addition, the film makes the same mistake as that of Reeves Wiedeman Billion dollar loser does: it obscures how weird things were at WeWork. Adam Neumann probably should have continued to smoke weed and invest in wave pools forever if the company had made a profit. When WeWork was on the rise, his eccentricities were treated as proof of his genius. (Steve Jobs was eccentric too!) The story isn’t Adam – it’s a dysfunctional company.
It honors the film, it provides the value proposition for WeWork. See, 2008 was one property crisis – although we remember the housing crisis, commercial real estate also collapsed. WeWork was a high-risk arbitration game: sign a long-term lease with a property in need at a low rate, design a fun workspace, and get people to work there. WeWork’s insight was to design in ways that cater to millennials: great coffee, welcoming decor, great food.
Unfortunately, the documentary didn’t stop with real estate. Had Rothstein done that, there would have been more detail on how WeWork rented buildings from Adam Neumann. Ideally, there would also have been a glimpse of WeWork’s January 2019 rebranding to The We Company. This move cost WeWork $ 5.9 million and went to We Holdings LLC, controlled by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey. (The deal was later reversed.) Both related party transactions would have required approval – it would have been nice to know how those meetings went and who was there.
Instead, these major red flags are briefly mentioned at the end, as part of the S-1 scandal. Instead of harsh coverage, we get a lot of footage from Adam and generalizations about millennials. WeWork was something to believe in for many vulnerable young people. This movie isn’t the first time WeWork has been compared to a cult and won’t be the last. (The title of Wall Street Journal the upcoming book from reporters Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell is The cult of us
The cult-y company was not exactly unusual at the time; it is a hallmark of Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley to. Part of WeWork’s woo-woo vibe comes from Rebekah Neumann, who ran WeGrow, the school portion of The We Company. Rebekah studied at the Kabbalah Center and got Adam so far. That spirituality was good for business as Kabbalah headquarters was also where Adam met early investors like Ashton KutcherWithout Rebekah’s influence, WeWork probably wouldn’t have been able to respond as much to its employees’ need to believe. The nearest We work To explain all this comes a shot in which we glimpse a red bracelet on Adam’s wrist.
A consistent feature of reporting on Adam is how charismatic he would be. But this film doesn’t produce a charismatic leader either – just a repetitive one. That’s a limitation of the images: it’s all things Adam knows will be shot, and it’s all in the service of a WeWork PR campaign. So that that footage wouldn’t contain, for instance, the night Neumann talked about firing 7 percent of the staff – then handing out shots and having Run-DMC’s Darryl McDaniels play a set with “ It’s Tricky. ” To get such anecdotes, you have to talk to people who were there. The documentary does this a bit, but the collaborators are underutilized.
Though we see Joanna Strange, the company’s first whistleblower, her look is short – and the documentary makes no mention of WeWork suing her and even convicting the FBI. (In fact, however the legal system boils with WeWork Lawsuits, we get very little mention of it any legal actionStrange is one of the main sources for this Bloomberg‘s Sink podcast, describing what the company is costing its employees. Her recordings, aired on that podcast, show us what Adam sounded like when he didn’t know he was on the record – and includes a lot more commentary from WeWork employees.
I would also have liked to hear more about WeLive, which sounds like a student house for people in their twenties. Bonds were apparently intense; if you had friends outside of WeLive they came over once and never came back. Gradually, the people who lived at WeLive formed a closed community. I would have loved to learn more about who chose to live there and why. Hell, WeLive is probably his own documentary. It would also have been nice to hear from one or three WeGrow parents.
The worst part is the movie’s corny ending. You see, everyone who was interviewed talks about the importance of community as they put their masks back on – because, of course, this was filmed during the pandemic.
Here’s the thing: fellowship is powerful! After all, that’s what binds people to cults, even when they have doubts. Cult members are not stupid; they are usually educated, conscientious people who want to do good in the world, according to cul expert Janja LalichThey are just vulnerable – just like in their twenties who have never had a job and don’t know what is normal in a workplace.
To end We work with idiotic platitudes about the importance of the community is also to do WeWork employees short. These people, often very young, worked grueling hours and therefore had little time outside of their job. That kept them bound to their peers, the only kind of fellowship many of them had – and made it much harder to quit. When the IPO exploded, Adam was given a golden parachute as these hard-working employees found out their stock options were worthlessThey deserved better from WeWork. They also deserved better from this documentary.
WeWork expanded so quickly that the offices were often not ready the first day they opened; the carcinogenic fumes in the telephone booths were, it turns out, the tip of the untidy iceberg.Sink has the best account of the everyday horrors WeWork employees faced: beer keg disasters, buildings opening without bathrooms, condom wrappers in troubling places, and roaring herds of mice.) The documentary We work feels like a hasty attempt to collapse archive footage, telling the story of one wild and crazy guyIf I’m McKelvey – or a WeWork board member, or anyone else who should have curbed Adam Neumann – I’d breathe a sigh of relief: I’m off the hook. Much like WeWork itself, Rothstein’s movie usually delivers bombast, with little content to back it up.