Hulu’s WeWork documentary gives us Adam Neumann and little else
The issue of constructing a documentary a few showman is that it’s onerous to not be ensnared by him. WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn is so targeted on WeWork’s turbulent co-founder, Adam Neumann, that it finally loses the plot.
WeWork, it’s possible you’ll recall, was the topic of an incredible scandal across the disclosures within the S-1 doc required for its IPO. (The corporate is now trying to go public utilizing a SPAC, which implies somebody apart from the SEC is doing the due diligence.) WeWork, premiering April 2nd on Hulu, is director Jed Rothstein’s abbreviated retelling of the occasions across the troubled firm — however quite a lot of the bizarre particulars that made the WeWork story so riveting are misplaced.
Among the footage of Neumann is compelling. Within the first jiffy of the documentary, we see a haggard Neumann attempting to movie a video for his IPO roadshow; in a short time, he lifts a leg, lets out an audible fart, and then scolds the crew for laughing too lengthy. However the documentary’s give attention to Neumann’s kooky antics in some methods obscures his veritable military of enablers, from Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son to his co-founder, Miguel McKelvey, who’s barely talked about.
In doing this, the film makes the identical mistake that Reeves Wiedeman’s Billion Greenback Loser does: it obscures simply how bizarre issues have been at WeWork. Adam Neumann in all probability would have been allowed to proceed smoking weed and investing in wave swimming pools ceaselessly if the corporate had turned a revenue. When WeWork was on the upswing, his eccentricities have been handled as proof of his genius. (Steve Jobs was eccentric, too!) The story isn’t Adam — it’s a dysfunctional enterprise.
To the film’s credit score, it gives the worth proposition for WeWork. See, 2008 was a actual property disaster — although we bear in mind the housing disaster, business actual property crashed, too. WeWork was a high-risk arbitrage play: signal a long-term lease with a distressed property at a low charge, design a cute workspace, and then cost individuals to work there. WeWork’s perception was to design in ways in which catered to millennials: nice espresso, welcoming decor, good meals.
Sadly, the documentary didn’t stick to actual property. Had Rothstein executed so, there would have been extra element on how WeWork rented buildings from Adam Neumann. Ideally, there additionally would have been a glimpse into WeWork’s January 2019 rebranding to The We Firm. This transfer value WeWork $5.9 million, which went to We Holdings LLC, managed by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey. (The deal was later unwound.) Each related-party transactions would have required approvals — it might have been good to know the way these conferences went and who was there.
As a substitute, these main pink flags are talked about briefly on the finish, as a part of the S-1 scandal. Fairly than hard-nosed reporting, we get quite a lot of footage of Adam and generalizations about millennials. WeWork was one thing to imagine in for lots of susceptible younger individuals. This film isn’t the primary time WeWork has been in comparison with a cult and received’t be the final. (The title of Wall Avenue Journal reporters Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell’s forthcoming e book is The Cult of We.)
The cult-y firm wasn’t precisely uncommon on the time; it’s a characteristic of Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley, too. A few of WeWork’s woo-woo vibe comes from Rebekah Neumann, who ran WeGrow, the college portion of The We Firm. Rebekah studied on the Kabbalah Centre and bought Adam to attend as nicely. That spirituality was good for enterprise for the reason that Kabbalah headquarters was additionally the place Adam met early buyers corresponding to Ashton Kutcher. Arguably, with out Rebekah’s affect, WeWork wouldn’t have been in a position to play as a lot on its staff’ have to imagine. The closest WeWork involves explaining any of it is a shot during which we glimpse a pink string bracelet on Adam’s wrist.
A constant characteristic of reporting on Adam is how charismatic he’s stated to be. However this film doesn’t ship a charismatic chief, both — only a repetitive one. That’s a limitation of the footage: it’s all stuff Adam is aware of is being shot, and it’s all in service of a WeWork PR marketing campaign. In order that footage wouldn’t embrace, as an illustration, the night all-hands the place Neumann talked about firing 7 p.c of employees — then handed out photographs and had Run-DMC’s Darryl McDaniels play a set that included “It’s Difficult.” To get anecdotes like that, you must speak to individuals who have been there. The documentary does this a little, however the staff are underused.
Although we see Joanna Unusual, the corporate’s first whistleblower, her look is temporary — and the documentary doesn’t point out that WeWork sued her, and even sicced the FBI on her. (The truth is, although the courtroom system is seething with WeWork lawsuits, we get very little point out of any authorized motion.) Unusual is among the major sources for Bloomberg’s Foundering podcast, which particulars what the corporate value its staff. Her recordings, aired on that podcast, present us what Adam appeared like when he didn’t know he was on the document — and incorporates way more commentary from WeWork staff.
I additionally would have appreciated to listen to extra about WeLive, which seems like a school dorm for twenty-somethings. Bonds have been apparently intense; in the event you had buddies outdoors WeLive, they came to visit as soon as and by no means returned. Step by step, individuals who lived at WeLive fashioned a closed neighborhood. I might have liked to know extra about who selected to stay there and why. Hell, WeLive might be its personal documentary. It will have been good, too, to listen to from a WeGrow father or mother or three.
The worst whiff is the film’s corny ending. You see, everybody who was interviewed talks concerning the significance of neighborhood whereas placing their masks again on — as a result of, after all, this was filmed throughout the pandemic.
Right here’s the factor: neighborhood is highly effective! In any case, that’s what binds individuals to cults even when they’re experiencing doubt. Cult members aren’t silly; they’re normally educated, conscientious individuals who wish to do good on the planet, in accordance with cult professional Janja Lalich. They’re simply susceptible — very like twenty-somethings who’ve by no means had jobs earlier than and don’t know what’s regular in a office.
To finish WeWork with inane platitudes concerning the significance of neighborhood can also be to promote WeWork’s staff brief. These individuals, usually very younger, labored grueling hours and subsequently had little time outdoors their jobs. That stored them sure to their co-workers, the one type of neighborhood lots of them had — and made it a lot tougher to stop. When the IPO blew up, Adam bought a golden parachute whereas these hard-working staff came upon their inventory choices have been nugatory. They deserved higher from WeWork. Additionally they deserved higher from this documentary.
WeWork was increasing so quick that its places of work steadily weren’t executed on the primary day they have been open; the carcinogenic fumes within the telephone cubicles have been, it seems, the tip of the shoddy iceberg. (Foundering has one of the best account of the mundane horrors WeWork staff handled: beer keg disasters, buildings that opened with out bogs, condom wrappers in upsetting locations, and thundering herds of mice.) The documentary WeWork appears like a rushed try to slap collectively archival footage, and in so doing, tells the story of 1 wild and loopy man. If I’m McKelvey — or a WeWork board member, or anybody else who ought to have reined Adam Neumann in — I’d breathe a sigh of aid: I’m off the hook. Very similar to WeWork itself, Rothstein’s film delivers largely bombast, with little substance to again it up.
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