The two Oscar winners are highly entertaining, but their presence draws attention better spent elsewhere in the Apple TV+ limited series.
SXSW can’t get enough of Adam Neumann. During the festival’s virtual edition last year, Jed Rothstein’s feature-length documentary, “WeWork: The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn,” centered on the co-founder of the coworking company. Now, for SXSW’s in-person return, he’s back – though he’s played by Jared Leto in the Apple TV+ scripted series, “WeCrashed.”
Stretching the runtime from 104 minutes to eight hours and adding a romance to the office drama, Drew Crevello and Lee Eisenberg’s understated satire on the rise and fall of WeWork doesn’t suffer from the same flaws as its unscripted predecessor. Leto skillfully captures Neumann’s magnetism, which was often discussed but never realized in the doc. The structure of the series is solid, doing just enough to support another opening in the media. The dark comedy clicks, the design is neat and the pacing smooth, but like the documentary (now streaming on Hulu), “WeCrashed” is overtaken by its quirky stars; it’s so serviceable to Adam and Rebekah Neumann’s journey, and the Oscar-winning movie stars who play them, that it loses its edge, perspective, and stakes. What’s left is a beautiful production that’s easy to watch, but without enough of a consequence to be worth the time.
As promised by the tagline – “a love affair worth $47 billion” – “WeCrashed” follows the arc of Adam and Rebekah’s relationship, beginning when they were just two children. lunatics trying to make a living in the Big Apple. Adam’s early business ideas (including baby clothes with built-in knee pads and foldable high-heeled shoes) can’t take off. Rebekah (Anne Hathaway) works as a yoga teacher, earns a dollar per student, and tips all of her tips to her manager. One night, Adam has the brilliant (read: illegal) idea of raising money for his various pursuits via a rooftop party, and that’s where the two will meet.
Peter Kramer/Apple TV+
He is in love, she is not; he stalks her private information, she forgets he exists; he shows up at her yoga class, she’s offended…until he scolds his boss and she jumps to her bones. It’s a love story as old as the hills: two entrepreneurial spirits brought together by ambition. Or – and the show never makes room for this possibility – he knows she’s a Paltrow (Gwyneth’s name dropped oftenand his always funny), knows she has family money ($1 per college student doesn’t pay for her posh Manhattan apartment), and knows he can spend that money on his dreams.
Soon, he’s doing just that: cashing in on his stepfather’s $1 million wedding gift to pay for renovations to a shared office space. A classmate (who Adam doesn’t remember) helped him land a cheap lease, then does all the work of formulating a business plan for their landlord, while Adam…sleeps. That man, of course, is Miguel McKelvey (Kyle Marvin), the future co-founder of WeWork, and the montage of Miguel’s sleepless night – laughing at the pitch, having coffee, spilling the coffee on the pitch, adding Red Bull at his new cafe so he has enough energy to recreate the land – is the first of many visually fluid and highly entertaining medleys that unfold across the eight episodes. Most are used to juxtaposing glaring disparities like this – Miguel doing all the work, Adam taking all the credit – and there are plenty more incongruities to come.
“WeCrashed” covers most of the major events described in previous coverage of WeWork’s bizarre business practices. Episode 3 takes place during the first “Summer of We”, a private corporate retreat held at a real summer camp filled with booze, music and unchecked machismo. Episode 4 sees Adam court Masayoshi Son, the head of SoftBank, for a $4.4 billion investment. Other entries cover Rebekah’s short acting life, her longtime family issues (no, not Cousin Gwyney), and her steady absorption of roles at WeWork.
Despite the lasting scars of “Suicide Squad,” “The Little Things,” and various other over-the-top turns, I have to admit: Leto is smoothly settling into Neumann’s character. The Israeli accent, the slender movements, the effortless but focused exuberance – it’s all there. Even when his big, persuasive speeches consist of nothing but hot air, Leto maximizes charm and minimizes quirkiness in such a way that you welcome the warm breeze. Adam enjoys when others are perplexed or surprised by his eccentric behavior; there is a glow in his giant pupils, as if he knows that as soon as his targets are off balance he can swoop in to kill them. But Leto never leans too heavily on Adam’s unusual antics. It’s crazy and compelling in equal measure; relatable enough for stuffy, deep-pocketed oldies to strike a deal, and unique in that young professionals will work long hours for low wages because only he can envision “the future of work.” Equally well-composed for serious moments and comedic flourishes, Leto understands what each scene calls for, and he delivers.
Peter Kramer/Apple TV+
Hathaway is almost his match, even in a role pushed to its limits. She gets two big comedy beats that pay off hugely (so I dare not spoil them here) and slips deftly into lines that poke fun at Rebekah’s new-age nonsense – and when she does, there’s a little zip extra on each zinger. Adam’s oblivious, self-deprecating comments are wisely dismissed by Leto, but it’s only fitting that Rebekah, who always feels neglected and undervalued, demands a little more attention than her “star” husband, even when she says something embarrassing. Together, the two are so hooked up that it’s easy to come to terms with their romance; “WeCrashed” operates under the presumption that their romance is as pure as their business was ridiculous, which may be true, but it also becomes intrusive.
Spending so much time on dates, fights, and reconciliations, as well as fleeting board meetings, deals, and parties, “WeCrashed” doesn’t have much time to look beyond Adam and Rebekah. The story of “WeWork” is there – at least, the story from the perspective of the founders – but the context is lacking.
Episode 3 opens with a new recruit, and during the brief introduction (via another great edit!), we see what WeWork is like through his eyes: “Thank God it’s Monday” parties, it’s starting the week with shots, getting drunk with co-workers, and hooking up in the “fucking closet”. This loop is encouraged by Adam, who leads the TGIM toasts, and embraced by a company full of brothers. When employees try to voice their concerns, either no one listens (WeWork didn’t initially have a human resources department) or Rebekah, WeWork’s most senior woman, attacks them for being too sensitive.
It’s all great. Memorable tracks from the hour see “WeCrashed” hold Adam and Rebekah accountable for irresponsible and reckless actions that ruined lives. Even the final coda highlights how WeWork abused its employees and left them in tatters. But the episode takes a big detour in the middle. The third hour is as much about Rebekah’s tumultuous family history (not Gwyneth, don’t worry) as her disregard for employee welfare (which creates a biting irony, since welfare is everything to her). Rebekah needs space for herself to process personal developments; meanwhile, his staff are crammed into flimsy tents on a small compound where everyone is supposed to party the night away. But the commentary is dulled not only by Rebekah’s serious approach to struggles, but also by the fact that she’s the one in the spotlight. The new recruit kind of fades away, only to appear in later episodes for equally half-hearted attempts to give voice to the voiceless.
By the time “WeCrashed” ends, more bits of satire have been sneakily infused, but the bite isn’t strong enough to leave a mark. The tone settles somewhere between disillusioned and silly. Leto and Hathway are far more dominant than the holes punched in their subjects, and their performances more enjoyable than their characters are despicable. It may be easier to wonder about Neumann than to remember his sins, but that’s hardly an impression that warrants another visit.
“WeCrashed” premiered at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. Apple TV+ will release the first three episodes on Friday, March 18 with a weekly rollout following.