While Greta and Sir David model our future hair shirts, some are still living the glory days of high capitalism. A kind of documentary Wolf of Wall Street, this film charts the meteoric rise and fall of workspace start-up WeWork. One of its two cofounders is soon eclipsed by the 6 foot 6 shadow of its mane-haired, evangelical CEO, former kibbutznik Adam Neumann and his gospel of doing well by doing “good”. A woo-woo take on this word is increasingly brought to dominate proceedings by his wife, a transcendentalist and cousin of your other favourite new-age CEO, Gwyneth Paltrow. $40,000 a year for a creche called WeGrow? Until an African-American security guard at one of the hedonistic WeWork Summer Camps is moved to ask, “is this some kind of cult?”. It turns out that the We was more often Me, and that you can’t transcend the laws of economics.
Before long the company is haemorrhaging tenants and staff, and cooking the books while under pressure from super-investor Masayoshi Son, who writes Neumann a $4bn cheque with the instruction to “go crazy”. Lizzie Widdicombe in The New Yorker says born a couple of centuries earlier, Neumann “would have made an amazing prophet” (no pun intended), except perhaps of the speed of his company’s demise, once the flower-child IPO prospectus set panic racing through Wall Street, and investors running for cover.
In local paper The New York Times, Ben Kenigsburg sees WeWork as the fruit of a “shared delusion”. But he doesn’t fall for the charms of either Adam Neumann or the film, caught up as he sees it being with the antics and capers of its subjects than the social causes and impacts of the WeWork phenomenon. Over here, the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw finds the doc “very entertaining” – we agree. “This was a workplace where they had a poster reading ‘Punch today in the face.’” He isn’t alone in comparing it to fellow disaster doc Fyre. As the film’s director asked him, “Is there a way to tweak the dials so that you still incentivize people to dream big and have big visions but that it doesn’t always seem to end up with socialized losses and privatized profits?”
First shown August 2021.