The Quarantine Stream: 'WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn' is a Fascinating Chronicle of the WeWork Saga – /Film
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn
Where You Can Stream It: Hulu, starting April 2.
The Pitch: A documentary that chronicles the rise and fall of WeWork, a commercial real estate company that inexplicably became valued at billions of dollars – before everything came crashing down.
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: WeWork is almost like a companion piece to the dueling FyreFestival documentaries – portraits of big ideas that were never fully, or realistically, realized, ultimately resulting in disaster. It’s a fascinating story that’s slickly, but sometimes slightly, told by filmmaker Jed Rothstein.
You can add Adam Neumann’s name alongside the likes of Fyre Festival’s Billy McFarland and Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes – young people with big, unattainable dreams, and the self-delusion to not realize how badly such ill-formed dreams can backfire. People who were able to exploit others for their own financial gains. People who eventually had it all blow up in their faces publicly.
Where does Neumann fit in with these other infamous fraudsters? Did he at any point realize how precarious the WeWork situation was? Or did he buy into his own bullshit? That’s up to you to decide, but as I watched WeWork, I initially got the impression that Neumann really was a true believer. Someone who absolutely, 100% thought he was a brilliant, untouchable guy with brilliant, untouchable ideas. But as one interview subject says here – all he was really doing was renting desks.
But to Neumann, WeWork – which is basically like Airbnb for office space, and which is somehow still around despite all the scandal – was more than just desk rental. It was a way to change the entire world via community. You didn’t go to work in a WeWork office – you embraced a lifestyle. You found friendships. You became a member of an exclusive-seeming club. And you drank a lot of beer. This idea expanded even further with WeLive, which served as a communal living space for many WeWork employees.
You can see how a company that rents office space could become successful, but it’s downright baffling to think that WeWork somehow ballooned into this juggernaut that was once valued at $47 billion. How, exactly, did this happen? This is one of WeWork‘s failings – it’s never entirely clear on this front. The bottom line seems to be that the secret to the company’s (overvalued) success was Neumann, who had a gift for speaking and was able to convince so many wealthy people to buy into his bullshit. And Neumann was able to push his plans even further with the help of his wife, actress Rebekah Neumann.
There’s a tendency these days to take these sorts of stories and tell them over a series of multiple bloated docuseries episodes. WeWork sticks to being a one-and-done tale told via a single documentary, but this is one of the rare cases where I actually wanted more. I wanted the story to go deeper and peel back even more layers. The fact remains that there are times when WeWork feels too slight; as if the filmmakers are merely scratching the surface. For instance: WeWork was founded by Neumann and Miguel McKelvey, but McKelvey is like a ghost here. He’s briefly mentioned once or twice, and spotted from time to time in archival footage, but we learn almost nothing about him and how he fit into the company as a whole. I get that the story being told here is essentially the story of Adam Neumann above all else, but it still feels as if there are pieces of the puzzle missing.
Still, it is a fascinating story that sucks you in – and there’s an oddly affecting emotional angle here that I wasn’t expecting. As WeWork draws to an end, it makes a plea that, despite the nonsense from Neumann, there is some sort of value in the germ of the idea at hand – the idea that we, as human beings, need to connect with other human beings. That no matter how solitary some of us may want to be, in the end, we’ll find ourselves reaching out for contact with someone else. Neumann was able to exploit that for his benefit, and there’s something pernicious, even diabolical, about that. Maybe he wasn’t a true believer at all. Maybe he was just a guy who knew exactly how to rip people off.
Source: Read Full Article