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[SXSW ’21] ‘WeWork: Or, The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn’ review: Documentary explores a twisted American Dream

When I say “We” you say “Work”

WeWork: Or, The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn is an upcoming Hulu documentary that chronicles the rise and fall of the titular company. WeWork is a commercial real estate that caused a media firestorm in 2019. Its meteoric rise and spectacular fall has been the subject of books and podcasts with a television series and movies to follow.

The film starts with company founder Adam Neumann farting while recording a video presentation. This sense of silliness permeates throughout WeWork. Interviews with Neumann and footage from the WeWork summer camp are filled with a sense of enthusiasm and fun. It truly looks like Neumann’s goal of creating a “capitalistic commune” is a realistic one.

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This feeling continues during the many interviews. Neumann and his company are spoken of fondly. Yet during these moments there is also a sense that the charismatic founder was in over his head. WeWork paints Neumann as the ultimate salesman. It was almost impossible for anyone to not listen to him. Initially, he is presented as less a snake oil salesman and more a passionate man who knew how to sell a dream.

This does not mean he is portrayed in the most positive life. Director Jed Rothstein looks back on Neumann’s life to tell the story of a larger than life character. WeWork is filled with footage of  Neumann speaking. There is a cult-like feeling to these moments and as the years go on, it seems Neumann is more concerned with how he appears. This point is driven home in an incident in which Neumann makes a mistake when ordering coffee leading to the barista changing the meaning of words.

Over the years, WeWork became valued as worth billions of dollars. During this time, cracks also started forming. Diversity, manipulation, and tracking bracelets all become a part of the WeWork community. The positive testimonials from earlier are replaced with ones that are more confident and less flattering. The documentary builds to its climax perfectly.

WeWork: Or, The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn is a fascinating documentary. Even those who are not familiar with terms like “IPO” and “dumb money” will be completely engaged. It is a crash course in how the New York real estate market and Wall Street work. By the end, audiences will wonder how any of it could have happened.

WeWork: Or, The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn premieres on Hulu April 2

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