Released: 2nd April
Seen: 5th November
In the history of business, there have been some spectacular company deaths, be they big businesses that once cornered a market but failed to keep up with the times (Hi Blockbuster) to little businesses that tried so hard but exploded under their own weight. Then there’s businesses like WeWork, a company that leased out office spaces and homes to people in a way that somehow allowed them to not legally be classified as rental agencies. They were huge, a $47 Billion dollar Titanic just waiting for an iceberg to take it down… this documentary is the story of that iceberg.
WeWork: or The Making And Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn charts the humble beginnings, meteoric rise, destructive collapse and generally scandal ridden life of WeWork. The documentary interviews people who worked as part of WeWork, people who used their services and several of the reporters who charted its strange history (though, sadly, the film never got a chance to speak to founder Adam Neumann which would’ve probably made for a fascinating interview). Even though the company is still in business today, this film dissects its beginnings and the fundamental flaws that sprung up in the first decade of its existence.
The documentary is very careful to hold the audience’s hand and explore just what WeWork was as a company, taking the time to meticulously explain so you won’t get too confused once they start getting into the meat of things. With the aid of some glorious visuals and a ton of really handy archive footage, even if you aren’t the most business savvy person you’ll find this easy to follow… which is handy because the WeWork story is nuts. Nuts enough that one of the opening descriptions for something WeWork related is “Fyrefest if it was done right”, before showing that WeWork is more like… well, what Fyrefest actually ended up being.
As you listen to the interviews of the people who take part in the film, it paints this bizarre picture that makes the WeWork they were part of feel like a cross between a cult and money making scheme that went out of control. It’s brilliantly laid out, each little quirk is given ample time to sink in so you slowly see the strangeness behind the charismatic leader that’s presented about as fairly as you could expect considering he didn’t take part in this film. I can imagine that Adam probably has a few problems with how he’s presented, but he had the chance to take part and didn’t so I don’t really feel that bad about how he’s portrayed (AKA a kind of egotistical cult leader who could sell pretty much anything to anyone)
Honestly the thing that’s strangest about this film is that WeWork still exists as a company, large enough that there are actually ten WeWork offices in Sydney right now which is not something you can normally say about companies that get to have documentaries made about their downfall. While this film acts like the company is kind of dead at the end, it would’ve been interesting for them to maybe get people who work there currently to explain how the heck the business is still going even after the absolute turmoil that is explored through the film. It’s just a weird ending that’s a lot more abrupt than it could be.
WeWork: or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn is still a pretty fascinating piece of work, exploring the limits of big ambition and showing how one of the biggest companies around was able to nosedive in a matter of days just because someone leaked the truth. Even if the ending isn’t satisfying, there’s enough juicy strange goings on here to make for an engaging and somewhat enjoyable viewing experience.