WeCrashed review: Jared Leto is centre-stage as WeWork’s self-styled messiah Adam Neumann in Apple TV+ biopic

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WeCrashed dramatises the rise and fall of Adam Neumann, the founder and CEO of office space coworking empire WeWork

“We lease office space, hang a few Edison lightbulbs and a neon sign, and then act like we’re changing the world,” snaps a WeWork employee at Adam Neumann in an early episode of WeCrashed. It’s not wrong – but, as the Apple TV+ drama goes to some lengths to emphasise, the WeWork founder and CEO didn’t see it that way, instead positioning the co-working company as the centre of a revolutionary mission “to elevate the world’s consciousness”.

The series charts the rise and fall of WeWork’s founding trio: entrepreneur Adam Neumann (Jared Leto), architect Miguel McKelvey (Kyle Marvin), and Neumann’s wife Rebekah Paltrow-Neumann (Anne Hathaway). Though the company is still operating, those three have since been ousted after a failed IPO – an attempt to turn a private company into a publicly traded one, which is essentially what gives company shares real monetary value – that saw the company lose billions of dollars. WeCrashed is a story in a similar vein to something like Superpumped or The Dropout, though it’s not strictly speaking a true-crime piece like the latter (Neumann once successfully sued an unrelated HBO documentary for describing itself as such).

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WeWork began as conceptliving: not a shared office space but a shared living space, essentially communes inspired by Neumann’s experiences living on a kibbutz in Israel and McKelvey’s in a “five-mother collective” in Oregon. The idea is met with resistance (“who’s going to clean the bathrooms?”) and quickly shifts into greendesk, something more recognisable as WeWork. Neumann is flashy and indulgent, and the company takes the same approach as it expands – it’s defiantly extravagant, throwing around money they don’t have as part of a spend-to-grow mentality Neumann holds to above anything else. The company is precarious in a way a lot of success stories are before they succeed, often only making it to the next quarter because Neumann is able to pull a hail Mary out of thin air – until eventually he can’t.

Much of the thrust of WeCrashed comes down to the sheer force of Adam Neumann’s personality. Jared Leto brings a certain blank, dead-eyed charm to the role; while it’d be difficult to blame anyone for being put off by his involvement, it’s hard not to conclude he’s one of the best parts of the show. A cult of personality quickly builds up around Neumann, who’s nothing if not dynamic – he’s every inch the eccentric CEO, from working barefoot to Harlem Shakes in the office, but takes it further, asserting himself as not just WeWork’s founder but its messiah.

Jared Leto as Adam Neumann and Kyle Marvin as Miguel McKelvey in WeCrashed (Credit: Apple TV+)Jared Leto as Adam Neumann and Kyle Marvin as Miguel McKelvey in WeCrashed (Credit: Apple TV+)
Jared Leto as Adam Neumann and Kyle Marvin as Miguel McKelvey in WeCrashed (Credit: Apple TV+) | Apple TV+

For all that Neumann makes for a deeply strange, even arresting presence, there’s a sense though that WeCrashed’s fascination with him might be to its detriment. It’s not that he isn’t interesting, exactly, but that the show is so invested in this idea of Neumann as a singular personality that it starts to become myopic, losing sight of anything around and beyond him. For something like WeCrashed to work – and, specifically, to work as an eight-hour television rather than a two-hour feature biopic – it needs to look beyond the enigmatic founder, and give more thought towards the structural conditions and systems that let him succeed.

The Dropout is an instructive comparison in that regard, actually. On one level it’s about offering an insight into Elizabeth Holmes as a person inextricable from her company, but it’s also about the circumstances that let her thrive. People buy into Theranos with dollar signs in their eyes; their doubts about the company are always tempered, and eventually swallowed, by their financial insecurity. WeCrashed has less of a handle on why Neumann was granted so much latitude by investors and board members, far beyond corporate convention. The Dropout’s fourth episode switches perspectives, explaining why Walgreens executives, desperate after the recession, put their faith in Holmes. WeCrashed’s third episode does something a little similar, gesturing at how the company’s employees are starting to grow frustrated with their atypical work environment – but quickly loses sight of that to get into Rebekah Neumann’s backstory instead.

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Rebekah is likely WeCrashed’s biggest difficulty, actually. Anne Hathaway is doing the absolute most, as she always does, but the series struggles to make her character work. In a way, Rebekah should be the heart of the programme, much as the real Rebekah positioned herself as the soul of WeWork; a one-time actor and Gwyneth Paltrow’s cousin, much of the spirituality that defined WeWork’s atypical corporate culture came from her obsession with New New Age manifestation ideas. But it feels as though the series thinks her proximity to fame is enough to make her interesting, struggling to weave her and her relationship with Adam into the rest of the series; even despite Hathaway’s best efforts, a lot of the material around Rebecca makes WeCrashed feel like a series trying to hit 8 episodes rather than one that needs 8 episodes.

The series does basically work, certainly. It has a lot going for it, beyond the aforementioned: Kyle Marvin is really good as Neumann’s unassuming, more sensible counterpart, in many ways an argument against casting high-profile Oscar-winners in biopics like this; the series is often very funny, in a way that’ll make you wish it was more often; the score and the soundtrack are both really well-suited to the show and its story.

And, at times, WeCrashed does manage to skewer corporate nonsense. The investment bank Neumann depends on for funding insists that it, too, offers a personal experience beyond just money. But, in the end, it’s just a bank, like WeWork is just an office space company, and maybe even like WeCrashed is just another television show, good but perhaps not quite good enough.

WeCrashed begins on Apple TV+ on Friday 18 March, with the first three episodes available to watch at once, and a further five available weekly thereafter. I’ve seen seven episodes of WeCrashed before writing this review.

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