Getting freelancers to divide up a workspace and convince them that they’re part of an exclusive club is an interesting trick, but that’s just the first flicker of the gas light visible in “WeWork: Or the making and breaking a $ 47 billion unicorn, ”a documentary that suggests WeWork – the tech startup, or is it a real estate startup? – owes its growth less to the sharing economy than to the shared illusion.
On why what now looks like a tenuous, swagger-based business model would appeal to Wall Street, director Jed Rothstein is spending less time than he should. Instead, the film traces a fast-paced and entertaining saga of WeWork’s relentless self-selling and what it describes as a cult corporate atmosphere. (One interviewee, August Urbish, who worked at WeWork and lived at WeLive – a similar company for short-term semi-collective apartment rentals – said that “his whole life was supported by the We community.”)
Rothstein’s documentary never captures the allure of the obnoxious guru at its center, Adam Neumann, co-founder of WeWork who resigned as chief executive in 2019. A title card indicates he declined to participate, but d ‘after what’s on screen, he speaks (and perhaps thinks) exclusively in motivational sound bites. Person after person speaks 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 depict the financial maneuvers that made WeWork’s rise to prominence, which, as explained here, involved redefining profitability measures into absurdity. The film also outshines itself by hinting, in its final beat, that, mad or not, WeWork’s view of human interaction holds promise for a post-lockdown world.
WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $ 47 Billion Unicorn
Unclassified. Duration: 1 hour 44 minutes. Watch on Hulu.