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Hulu's WeWork documentary is so focused on turbulent co-founder Adam Neumann that it ultimately loses the plot

  • "Rather than hard-nosed reporting, we get a lot of footage of Adam and generalizations about millennials," says Elizabeth Lopatto of director Jed Rothstein's WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn. "Some of the footage of Neumann is compelling," says Lopatto. "In the first few minutes of the documentary, we see a haggard Neumann trying to film a video for his IPO roadshow; very quickly, he lifts a leg, lets out an audible fart, and then scolds the crew for laughing too long. But the documentary’s focus on Neumann’s kooky antics in some ways obscures his veritable army of enablers, from Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son to his co-founder, Miguel McKelvey, who is barely mentioned." Lopatto also wonders why the documentary didn't go into detail on WeWork's business problems. "Unfortunately, the documentary didn’t stick with real estate," she says. "Had Rothstein done so, there would have been more detail on how WeWork rented buildings from Adam Neumann. Ideally, there also would have been a glimpse into WeWork’s January 2019 rebranding to The We Company. This move cost WeWork $5.9 million, which went to We Holdings LLC, controlled by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey. (The deal was later unwound.) Both related-party transactions would have required approvals — it would have been nice to know how those meetings went and who was there. Instead, these major red flags are mentioned briefly at the end, as part of the S-1 scandal."


    • WeWork doc fails to focus on the big picture: "The void at the center of this documentary is not a problem that's unique to WeWork," says Dan Jackson. "HBO's The Inventor, which unpacked the blood-soaked saga of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, or Netflix's Fyre, which retold the viral escapades of Billy McFarland and the Fyre Festival, both struggled to nail what made their respective schemers so compelling to the people who sunk money into their visions. (The answer might be that, in each case, their charm might have been overstated.) The quick turnaround streaming documentary produced to capitalize on the relevance of a fascinating news story is a helpful way to deliver a primer on a subject, giving off that authoritative explainer-y rush of information, but it often fails to offer a satisfying answer to any of the larger social questions surrounding a topic. What type of financial system rewards a person like Neumann? Why were so many eager to prop WeWork up? How does this keep happening? Instead of digging deeper, Rothstein falls back on many of the clichés about community that Neumann himself was so skilled at rolling out."
    • WeWork doc never captures the appeal of the obnoxious guru at its center, Adam Neumann: "A title card says he declined to participate, but from what’s onscreen, he speaks (and maybe thinks) exclusively in motivational sound bites," says Ben Kenigsberg. "Person after person testifies to his charisma, but it’s hard to understand how he persuaded people to join the company, rather than hit him in the head with a designer chair. The film is sharper when its subjects describe the financial maneuvering that enabled WeWork’s rise, which, as explained here, involved redefining measures of profitability into meaninglessness. The movie overextends itself, too, by implying, in its final beat, that, folly or not, WeWork’s vision of human interaction holds promise for a post-lockdown world."
    • The film is nearly sympathetic to Neumann’s lofty rhetoric and the pressure he must have been under as his company imploded
    • Director Jed Rothstein on the parallels between Adam Neumann and Theranos' Elizabeth Holmes: "There are certainly parallels in that they are both charismatic people who offered a revolutionary approach to old businesses," he says. "Renting office space or doing lab work are not things that people typically think of when they think of modern tech disruption. But they are important to our lives, we need medical results and we need places to work. Elizabeth Holmes was clearly a fraud, who said she had developed technology that she had not developed. Her product did not work. Adam’s case departs from that. He clearly overhyped the business and got out over his skis, but he did change the way that offices operate. Many WeWorks are pretty nice places. They’re a lot nicer than the competitors who were there before. Adam sold people a story and at the end of the day when the chips were down he wasn’t willing to live by the tenets of the actual future he had hyped to everybody. He took the money and took off. Elizabeth Holmes was lying in ways that are incredibly dangerous. Her story is darker."

    TOPICS: WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn, Hulu, Adam Neumann, Jed Rothstein, Documentaries, WeWork