This review is part of our coverage of the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
The Pitch: How far can a startup run on vibes alone? Turns out, it’s however far $47 billion gets you, at least in the smoke-and-mirrors valuations of VC culture. After all, that’s the magic number WeWork CEO Adam Neumann (Jared Leto) and his kooky wife/chief branding officer Rebekah Neumann (nee Paltrow; yes, she’s Gwyneth’s cousin, played by Anne Hathaway) used to fool Wall Street for nearly a decade into thinking they were the next great world-changing startup.
But within a year’s time, WeWork’s value plummeted, the Neumanns left in disgrace — though not without a $2 billion golden parachute — and the buzziest company in America became a punchline.
What led to such a precipitous fall? That’s the question WeCrashed, Apple TV+’s latest push for the startup-grifter boom (after Netflix’s Inventing Anna and Hulu’s The Dropout, among a gaggle of others) strives to answer. Granted, it does so over eight punishingly-long episodes, a frequent symptom of the veritable epidemic (as if we need more of those) of ripped-from-the-headlines miniseries that could easily be two-hour movies.
And yet, showrunners Lee Eisenberg and Drew Crevello’s adaptation of the Wondery podcast of the same name make the most of that length, strapping you into the driver’s seat for a slow, precipitous collapse of the hustle-culture mindset. If nothing else, WeCrashed is a testament to just how long money — or the illusion of it — will insulate narcissists from consequences, and the slow burn of its progression makes the show all the more tantalizingly agonizing.
Rise and Grind: What sets Eisenberg and Crevello’s version apart from others in the same bend is its unsparing look at its central figures. There’s no fragmented timeline like in Inventing Anna, or flirtations with understanding the con artist’s tortured past like in Dropout; WeCrashed is more than content to let us point and laugh at its protagonists, and the clueless lackeys, hypnotized investors, and cash-strapped millennials who attached themselves to Adam’s star.
Directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (joined in later episodes by folks like Thoroughbreds and Bad Education’s Cory Finley, who knows how to nail the wry tone of this kind of upper-crust satire) strike a delicate balance between the cold, dramatic prestige of a corporate drama and the farcical extremes of the Neumanns. With its crisp, cold presentation and pinballing tone, it feels a bit like Succession if the Roy family were startup tech bros.
There’s a perverse method to the madness in casting Leto in a role like Adam Neumann; both are gaunt, bizarre, eerily charismatic men fully enmeshed in cultlike subcommunities (look it up), and he approaches the role with either too much or too little self-awareness. With his long mane of raven hair and incomprehensible accent, there’s something of Tommy Wiseau in his take on Adam, the kind of bullshit artist who can talk his way into (or out of) anything based on sheer chutzpah.
Leto’s Adam feels less like a three-dimensional performance than a weaponized series of quirks aimed in the right direction, and it bizarrely works: After all, the real Adam Neumann feels himself like a bundle of feel-good affectations in search of a person, from his tendency to go barefoot in any and all situations to his giddy attachment to Katy Perry’s “Roar.” It’s hardly the goofy, so-bad-it’s-fascinating heights of his wackadoo turn in House of Gucci, but it’s used well here.
Bad Energy: But while Leto goes broad and demonstrative, Hathaway plays Rebekah with the kind of po-faced seriousness she deserves, and ends up stealing the whole show right out from under him.
Where Adam is a type-A doofus who flits from one scheme to another hoping to get rich quick, Rebekah is fully committed to her mission of making the world a better place: “We’re elevating the world’s consciousness,” she asserts with complete confidence, to the bafflement of employees and interviewers who are just asking her about her husband’s shared workspace company.
She’s Lady MacBeth as wellness guru, whispering into Adam’s ear one impractical idea after another: all-vegan meals at WeWork, starting a private school that teaches 5-year-olds “conscious entrepreneurship” instead of reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.
The series’ greatest moments come when Hathaway gets to immerse herself in the blinkered bravado of the real figure, whether she’s telling a crowd full of WeWork employees that “a big part of being a woman is helping men” or bristling at moments where she’s reminded of her cousin’s immense shadow. It’s a real comedic showcase, made all the better by Hathaway’s complete commitment to Rebekah’s complete disconnect from reality.
Admittedly, it’s the corporate intrigue that falls a little flatter, the central dynamics inevitably falling between the entertainingly batty Neumanns and the more practically-minded (and therefore, less interesting) folks around them.