Entertainment

Hulu's 'WeWork' Documentary Revels in CEO Adam Neumann's Billion-Dollar Downfall

The rise-and-fall narrative of WeWork gets a streaming documentary that only scratches the surface of a fascinating story.

Hulu
Hulu
Hulu

If you’ve ever read anything about Adam Neumann, WeWork’s party-loving, pot-smoking, deck-slinging, shoe-hating co-founder and former CEO, it’s likely that you’ve encountered a description of his odd magnetism. In a 2019 profile for New York Magazine, writer Reeves Wiedeman, who later published a best-seller about the company’s dramatic public downfall, noted how Neumann’s “charisma” and “soaring rhetoric” appealed to both potential investors and the company’s employees, who bought into Neumann’s “do what you love” messaging and “change the world” messianic branding. With his long hair and grand ambitions, Neumann seemingly embodied his company’s stated goal to “elevate the world’s consciousness”-a bold mission for an entity that’s basically just a glorified landlord.

Despite turning down the filmmaker’s interview requests, Neumann is prominently featured in WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn, a documentary currently available on Hulu that dutifully attempts to untangle the story of how a company that hawked trendy co-working spaces came to be valued at such an inflated figure. The movie opens with Neumann in a suit, preparing to give some pre-written remarks to a camera, and at various points we see him sitting for interviews, pumping up employees, and hobnobbing with celebrities. What’s surprising is how awkward he appears at times, particularly since so many of the other people interviewed, including former WeWork staff and business journalists, attest to his interpersonal star power. What did they all see in him that the documentary can’t quite capture?

Though Neumann’s persuasive powers remain strangely elusive, filmmaker Jed Rothstein does an effective job of evoking the company’s “work hard, play hard” culture through shots of the company’s “summer camp” for adults, its shiny office dwellings, and its utopian marketing materials. You understand why the employees interviewed committed to the vision: They wanted to feel like they were part of something meaningful. In the initial stages, WeWork rebranded a not exactly novel business model-taking long-term leases and renovating spaces for small start-ups looking to rent desks and conference rooms-by playing up its focus on youth and technology. Neumann was fond of calling the company “the world’s first physical social network,” a phrase that becomes funnier and more absurd the more you read it over and consider the implications.

The WeWork story is a familiar one, a rise-and-fall narrative with an arrogant personality at the centre perfect for the juicy magazine article, but it grows more complicated with the introduction of SoftBank, the Japanese holding company behind the over $100 billion Vision Fund. In 2017, SoftBank got in the WeWork business in a big way, purchasing a $300 million stake in the company. The SoftBank connection, along with the company’s ties to the Saudi government, threaten to overwhelm a small-scope documentary like this, tipping it into the potentially more interesting (and more critical) territory explored by BBC filmmaker Adam Curtis in movies like 2016’s HyperNormalisation and this year’s epic Can’t Get You Out of My Head. To slice through the financial intricacies of WeWork’s collapse, Rothstein keeps the narrative focused on Neumann, who excelled at a specific game (convincing investors to open their wallets) for a long time before finding out the rules had changed as the company began to explore an IPO.

The void at the centre of this documentary is not a problem that’s unique to WeWork. 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 clichĂ©s about community that Neumann himself was so skilled at rolling out.

Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He’s on Twitter @danielvjackson.

Entertainment

Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.

Victoria

Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.

Queensland

BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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