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‘WeCrashed’ is as essential as a WeWork in a pandemic

THE WASHINGTON POST – On a good day in 2016, WeWork, the office-share chain, would only lose USD1.2 million in a 24-hour period.

That figure would soon double, though, as co-founder and CEO Adam Neumann, its shoe-shunning master salesman, sought to “elevate the world’s consciousness” – his company’s official mission – by out-franchising Starbucks. But what does it mean to lose USD400 million in a single year? Or more than USD2 billion in 2018, shortly before Neumann would be forced to resign from a position that he and his wife, Rebekah Paltrow Neumann (of, yes, those Paltrows), had decided only she could name a successor for?

Recent tech-centric shows such as Hulu’s The Dropout and Showtime’s Super Pumped, about Theranos and Uber, respectively, have taken care to illustrate the real damage caused by reckless leadership: patients given wrong diagnoses, riders having their assaults ignored or dismissed, employees browbeaten into silence or complicity.

In contrast, Neumann charmed, then squandered, billions from investors – by definition, people with money to spare. So why are we supposed to care again?

WeCrashed, the new eight-part miniseries starring Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway as the pair of narcissists who oversaw the breathtaking rise of WeWork and practically engineered its fall, never really figures out how to answer that question satisfyingly.

Previous versions of this story, like the 2021 Hulu documentary WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn, have used Neumann as a poster child for the now banal (if no less correct) observation of how thin the line in Silicon Valley can be between visionary and fraudster.

Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway as Adam and Rebekah Neumann in ‘WeCrashed’. PHOTO: APPLE TV PLUS

But perhaps because it’s from Apple TV Plus, the drama, based on the podcast of the same name, retreats from any larger critique of the tech industry (in one of the first, and certainly most prominent, instances of Silicon Valley putting forth a narrative about itself through television).

So we’re back to square one, wondering why, other than the very big numbers being thrown around, ordinary people are supposed to give a hoot about demigods pilfering from one another’s Scrooge McDuck-like vaults.

The best that creators Drew Crevello and Lee Eisenberg come up with is the delusion-fuelled marriage between Adam (Leto) and Rebekah (Hathaway), an amoral striver and a coddled dilettante who bring out the best and worst in each other.

Of the two, Rebekah, a vegan yoga teacher haunted by the kind of existential aimlessness that only those with no bills to pay can afford, is the slightly more sympathetic character; not a one of her several therapists can disabuse her of what she knows deep down to be true: There’s absolutely nothing special about her.

WeCrashed never lets us – or failed actress Rebekah – forget she is a cousin of Gwyneth’s. But the show never leans fully into camp or cattiness, frustratingly stuck instead somewhere between dishy and humanising (not unlike Leto’s House of Gucci).

The New York-set miniseries spans roughly a decade, with the couple meeting-cute at a party Adam throws trying to gin up cash for he and his pushover business partner Miguel McKelvey’s (Kyle Marvin) first iteration of WeWork.

As previewed in the pilot, Adam will become in just a few years the company’s most toxic asset. It’s easy enough to see how they get there. “Fear is a choice,” Rebekah tells her husband, as his ousting looms closer.

By that point, they’ve spent years mutually supporting each other’s divorces from reality.

Leto is almost always a capable actor, but the Israeli cadences he sports in the role mostly calls to mind the global tour of accents he currently seems to be on.

With his signature azure eyes covered up by brown contacts, it’s notable how much less striking he appears than the actual Neumann, whose long-haired, boyish mien somehow complements his six-foot-five height.

(The Hulu doc focussed extensively on how much the entrepreneur’s youthful but authoritative bearing contributed to the messianic pull he had over his employees – a quality barely explored and rather difficult to see here.)

Hathaway gives a much more memorable performance as a woman made of equal parts woo-woo froth and Ayn Rand hardness; she’s Adam’s biggest fan, and also the closest thing he has to an effective disciplinarian. (When he’s about to lose their company, Rebekah gives him a few moments to process the news, then chides, “Are we done pouting?”)

A perpetually underrated actor despite her Oscar, Hathaway – perfectly mimicking the real-life Paltrow Neumann’s patronising noblesse-oblige contralto – brings coherence to a character who desperately wishes she had a core.

The series’ strengths also include lavish production values and a diverting escalation in Adam and Rebekah’s ambitions and self-regard, which culminate in her starting a private school called WeGrow that’ll “feed our children’s souls”.

But if you’re wondering whether you should just learn about the Neumanns’ outrageously expensive and extravagantly silly antics through the Hulu doc or one of the countless exposés about the couple, well, maybe you should.

WeCrashed is the umpteenth series to stretch out to four or eight or 12 hours what movies used to do in two. Episodically structured with plenty of eyebrow-raising details, the show’s dramatisations are eminently watchable, but ultimately weightless.

Much of that sense of inconsequentiality stems from the minimal stakes of WeWork’s decline.

Yes, some young employees were disillusioned that their party-obsessed boss didn’t live up to his rhetoric of changing the world, and some 20-somethings weren’t able to become the multimillionaires they thought they would once the company went public.

But at least in this retelling, whatever happens on Olympus stays on Olympus: Some mega-rich people become slightly less rich, and then the world moves on.

We can mock their foibles and understand their vulnerabilities, but in declining to conjecture what WeWork’s nosedive meant for the rest of us, it’s got even less of a purpose than a co-working space during a pandemic.