“WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn” is the story of a liar with a big personality and the meteoric rise and fall of his company. It’s a documentary that exploits America’s fascination with young, eccentric tech entrepreneurs while dissecting the making of a brainwashing community.
Jed Rothstein (“The Cine Hustle”) uses a traditional and effective structure. First, the film explains why WeWork was so successful during its first few years, and then breaks down its failures, many of which, in hindsight, were obvious and borderline comical. If, like me, you didn’t know much about the company, you will be sweeped by the weirdness of it all.
The central figure of the documentary is WeWork’s co-founder Adam Neumann, a tall, friendly and ambitious man that used his charm to manipulate countless people. His goal was to create a community-centric space where startups could prosper and employees could be happy. It was a rebellion against the traditional office culture. Neumann convinced investors and employees alike that he believed in them and, in turn, they believed in him and his “reinvention of society” concept.
Rothstein relies a little bit too much on Neumann. After a while, it’s just too obvious that the man is full of hot air, but the constant parade of testimonies used by Rothstein to convince us about his charm becomes repetitive and threatens to derail the film.
After the quick success of the company, Neumann expanded into WeLive, a communal residence concept, and WeGrow, an attempt to reinvent education spearheaded by Adam’s wife, Rebekah, who is simply portrayed as an obnoxious and self-centered woman; her influence on Adam is touched upon but never fully explored.
Some elements, like WeLive or the presence of the other co-founder Miguel KcKelvey, are introduced, but never scrutinized. Their abandonment represents a missed opportunity to study the psychology of the whole operation. Again, Rothstein focuses too much on Neumann and forgets to explore other aspects surrounding him.
However, “WeWork” has a good pace and enough fascinating facts to keep you engaged, particularly if you never knew the story behind this enigmatic company. Revelations, hypocrisy and even idiocy are unmasked in the explanation of the company’s downfall, revealing how superficial business culture can be.
As the documentary wraps up, we learn about Neumann’s wealth, and his disgusting lies become the source of frustration. Rothstein presents the most powerful moments of “WeWork” when he finally lets former employees talk about the emotional consequences that the experience left on them. One of them breaks down crying — an innocent victim who believed in a man who thrived in America’s dehumanized and celebrity-obsessed capitalist system.
“WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn” had its premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival. It will be available on Hulu starting April 2. Follow us on Twitter for more reviews and coverage.
Ricardo is a Mexico City based bilingual writer, digital animation graduate and awards season nerd. He also enjoys pro wrestling, is a Paddington fan and is the founder of the film website “La Estatuilla.”