Photo: ‘WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn’/Hulu
There were a couple of things that I was looking to gain from watching the WeWork documentary. The first being a more in-depth understanding of the downfall of this, previously, billion-dollar tech “unicorn”. I wanted logical explanations that were put into layman’s terms of what led to the rapid decline in this company’s evaluated net worth over the course of six weeks. How did it plummet so quickly? What happened during this time that led its CEO to step down, the company to fire over 6,000 employees, and the company to withdraw its plans to go public? Secondly, I was looking for this particular explanation to strike a balance between dumbed down and informational.
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As with all good documentaries, there must be a story that is easily understandable to the general public, however, I still wanted to gain a technical understanding of what went wrong. The Hulu original documentary, ‘WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn’ didn’t do any of these things. Instead, it chose to villainize WeWork’s former CEO and founder, Adam Neumann, for a hundred minutes straight without backing any of their claims with actual evidence.
Ironically enough, the documentary falls into a very similar narrative that Neumann pushed throughout his company’s rise to fame, which demonstrates its complete lack of self-awareness. Not to mention, it tries to demonize a company built on the idea of community, something that has drastically decreased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The timing of its release, in my opinion, could not have been worse. While I think in part the issues that I had with this documentary could largely be solved by better pacing, the story is still extremely uncompelling and fails at its one goal: to make Adam Neumann into the singular bad guy responsible for WeWork’s downfall.
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Act One: Adam Neumann is a God, But Not Really
So let’s break this down a little bit more. The documentary dedicates too much time in the first act to exposition. The film opens with a series of clips that attempt to paint a portrait of Adam Neumann and his larger-than-life personality, but fail to. The clips don’t give any context as to who the person that we’re watching on the screen is. Without the context, the clips lack meaning and are simply wasted screen time. Much of the film moves in this way; there’s a lot of time spent on exposition that describes Adam Neumann’s life and his vision for the company’s culture at WeWork with very little time devoted to their actual business strategy.
So, the first strike for not being informational comes here. Much of the film’s first act is dedicated to Adam Neumann himself and his vision to build a better world with WeWork. Basically, all of this screen time can be summarized in two sentences: Adam Neumann had big ideas, his big ideas started to work, and he started to view himself as a sort of tech “god”. I do just want to say, at this point in WeWork’s company history, he was kind of a god. He is clearly charismatic, compelling, and an excellent public speaker, except that’s the whole persona that the film is trying to denounce in the first place.
It starts off by explaining why Adam Neumann is so great, but the film’s entire message is centered around him being the bad guy. Already, the film seems to have missed its mark. I kid you not, I was looking at the timestamps while watching this, and this whole section lasted for about forty-five minutes. Almost half the film is allotted to why Adam Neumann is so charismatic.
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Act Two: Shaky Testimonials that Fail to Show Us Adam’s True Nature
The next part of the film, act two, tries to unsuccessfully villainize this man that it just spent the entire first act praising. I want to pause for a minute here to talk about another recent documentary that has a similar narrative approach in that it takes a large, public scandal and pins it on one singular person: ‘Operation Varsity Blues’. This documentary paints Rick Singer as the bad guy in the college admissions scandal, and it works because they continually support this message throughout the entire film with solid evidence, such as FBI-recorded conversations. Ultimately, it is indeed convincing in its portrayal of Rick Singer as the mastermind behind the whole operation due to the hard evidence.
However, in the WeWork documentary, they rely very heavily on first-person accounts to prove that Adam Neumann is the “bad guy”. These first-person accounts come from a myriad of former WeWork employees, but the important thing to note is that all of these people seem bitter from their very first interviews. Apart from Neumann’s personal assistant, most of the people interviewed seem like they were outsiders at WeWork during their time with the company. It’s hard to tell if this is because they’re being interviewed in hindsight of everything that happened or if they were truly misfits from the start. Either way, their testimonies are so ripe with bitterness towards Adam Neumann himself that they feel unreliable.
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It’s interesting to me how one of the main points that this documentary pushes is the compelling nature of Adam Neumann’s words; how he is able to convince anyone to do anything by just saying it in the right way. It’s ironic to me because without consistent hard evidence of Adam Neumann’s wrongdoings, and instead of a heavy reliance on personal statements, the film is basically doing the same thing that Adam did. Adam had a message to share and he was willing to do whatever it took to get his audience to believe his message. The film does the exact same thing, though presumably less skillfully than Adam.
If Only the Last Twenty Minutes Got More Screen Time
The final act of this film is where the really interesting pieces of the story lie. I think many of the issues that I had with the film could have been easily solved by a change in pacing. Let me explain. In the last twenty minutes of the documentary, the interviewees bring up the company’s S1, which is a statement released to the public before an IPO (which is when a company is about to go public in the stock market). The S1 has a few major problems in it, such as the rampant misconduct on the part of Adam Neumann that is blatantly talked about in the document. To give an example, Neumann was buying properties privately, then leasing them back to the company he owned (WeWork).
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This is pretty messed up, I will admit, and not exactly akin to the “community” vision that Neumann was pushing. My major question for the filmmakers though, is why didn’t they bring this up sooner in the film? If their goal was to make Adam Neumann into the bad guy, this was the evidence that they needed to showcase, not personal testimonies. Why not have a consistent, supported message throughout the entirety of the film instead of dedicating almost an hour of screen time to Adam Neumann’s charisma? It seems like a counterintuitive way to make a film.
The other problem is that this document, the S1, is pretty much the most interesting part of the story. After the S1’s release, WeWork lost its $47 billion valuation and plummeted to near-bankruptcy over the course of six weeks. This is the story, not Adam Neumann’s speaking abilities. The story lies in these six weeks and it’s not even the climax of the film! It’s only brought up twenty minutes from the end, and even then, they spend about ten minutes of screen time discussing it. At the very least, they should have given the document itself more attention and discussion as they seemed to only vaguely mention some very interesting points from the S1.
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“When You Focus on Adam…”: The Greatest Irony of All
Overall, I did not like this documentary. I think it lacked an incredible amount of self-awareness and, in that, ended up pushing a narrative almost exactly like the one it was trying to denounce in the first place. I’m not saying Adam Neumann is a good guy, far from it, in fact. I’m just saying that the filmmakers did not do a compelling job of showing us that Adam Neumann is the bad guy. I wish the pacing had been better, and, frankly, that the filmmakers had chosen more interesting points to discuss.
The film wraps up with a statement from Adam’s personal assistant, who says, “When you focus the story on Adam, you miss how many people worked really, really hard to bring this impossible vision to life, who got nothing.” To me, this line is the greatest irony in the whole film, a film that, mind you, literally revolves around Adam Neumann, his life story, and his journey with WeWork.
Cast and Crew:
Written By: Jed Rothstein
Directed By: Jed Rothstein
Produced By: Ross M. Dinerstein | Cinematography: Wolfgang Held | Edited By: Samuel Nalband
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Caroline is currently a writer and contributor for Hollywood Insider. She believes in constant critical thinking and applied analysis when it comes to media consumption. Her goal aligns with Hollywood Insider’s mission statement, and she strives to educate readers on the nuances of the entertainment industry and to hopefully encourage them to form their own opinions on the media they consume daily.