Stories about the rise-and-fall of start-up businesses have been experiencing their own bubble lately: this year alone has seen Inventing Anna, The Dropout and the forthcoming Bad Blood. WeCrashed, thankfully, isn’t a sign of any stock-market implosion, but it does hint at the limits of where this in-vogue subgenre can go.
This story begins in September 2019, where, at WeWork’s “galactic headquarters”, Adam Neumann (Jared Leto) is forcibly removed as CEO of his own company; we then flash back to the trail of hubris and excess that took a coworking startup from an investor “unicorn” to a failed IPO (initial public offering). It all pops with the energy and chaos of similar billionaire balls-ups — the hedonistic corporate culture of The Wolf Of Wall Street, the unfettered Big Tech ambition of The Social Network. Justin Timberlake’s famous line from the latter, about how a million dollars isn’t cool, even gets its own spin here, Neumann at one point declaring: “I don’t want to be a billionaire — I want to be a trillionaire.”
That kind of grotesque greed needs a charismatic vessel. It finds just that in Jared Leto; if you’re looking to cast a rock star CEO, it makes sense to hire an actual rock star. Leto’s Outlandish Accent Era continues here, but unlike the Dolmio advert caricature of House Of Gucci, it’s a surprisingly accurate take on Neumann’s real Israeli accent. More importantly, he’s magnetic in the role — a tornado of charm and arrogance. Through his endless quixotic sales pitches, we quickly understand how a fairly unremarkable startup could — through platitudinous mission statements like “raising the consciousness of the world” — be valued at billions.
Despite spending most of the running time with them, the show never quite gets under the skin of Adam or Rebekah.
Neumann meets his match in Anne Hathaway’s new-age Rebekah; together, they are, as she puts it, “two cosmic voyagers, bound together by a transcendent love.” She’s initially placed as a cynic immune to Neumann’s charms, and then living in his shadow jealously, before doubling down on his bullshit. They end up a couple of delusional mad monarchs: an emperor and empress with no clothes.
As the absurdity builds, it plays like a wry black comedy. But despite spending most of the running time with them, the show never quite gets under the skin of Adam or Rebekah. It touches on their dysfunctional family history, but that’s about it, rarely advancing beyond the basic motivators of pride and greed — maybe simply because the writers don’t know the full story.
Perhaps it could have benefited from exploring the structures and conditions that allowed Neumann to get away with so much, or occasionally focusing on the many, many employees who lost jobs and small fortunes under his watch (one episode begins from a worker’s perspective, before switching back to the main duo). Like its recent cousins, WeCrashed is clearly hoping the schadenfreude of seeing bad people fail upwards will be watchable enough — and it is consistently watchable. But if we collectively examined what’s behind all these ruinous business failures, perhaps we wouldn’t need so many dramatisations.