What is it with tech bros (and gals)? Ever since The Social Network garnered acclaim and helped redefine what a great biopic is, there have been a slew of series and movies focused on entrepreneurial sociopaths, usually in the tech world. The Dropout, Inventing Anna, Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley, Startup.com, and both the HBO series Jobs and the movie Steve Jobs have all come out in the past decade, several in the past year. While the real-life characters vary from barely likable and compassionate to absolutely detestable (such as in Inventing Anna), the story remains largely the same.
WeCrashed: By the Numbers
WeCrashed, the new series from AppleTV+ that documents the rise and wall of WeWork, is similar to almost all of these shows and movies. It opens on the success of the person and/or company, or at least a difficult moment at the tail end of it. It jumps back to the beginning and how it all happened, following a more-than-often sociopathic character whose only drive in life is bigger and bigger success.
It traces years, usually about a decade, of this character’s life and relationships, or at least the relationships they destroy — from Steve Wozniack in Jobs, Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, and basically everyone Anna Delvey ever knew in Inventing Anna, the ‘real-life entrepreneurial jerk’ biopic always has a best friend who gets destroyed.
WeCrashed is no different, with a warm and endearing Kyle Marvey portraying Miguel McKelvey, the put-upon ‘friend’ of Adam Neumann, who co-founded WeWork with him. Neumann, like many of these other characters, doesn’t exactly love or have any emotional connection to his supposed best friend (or at least not the way people usually love, if there is such a thing); he sees McKelvey as an opportunity, the way his perception has been trained to view everything.
Jared Leto plays Adam Neumann in the usual Leto way — defiantly all-in. He refuses to compromise with roles, choosing to completely inhabit Neumann here and portray him in the most realistic way possible. Weirdly enough, however, the real Neumann was pretty outlandish and larger-than-life, so even when Leto is completely nailing the performance, it comes off as a caricature. That’s probably because Neumann himself is almost like a caricature of a human being.
Neumann and McKelvey navigate the business world, the latter playing the straight man while the former takes ridiculous risks that sometimes pay off, if only because of his unbridled confidence (the word which ‘con’ stands for). It’s difficult to actually say that they do this together, as McKelvey does the majority of the work, at least at the start, while Neumann lies his way into business deals. In a humorous montage, McKelvey stays up all night putting together a deck for their business model while Neumann sleeps soundly in bed.
Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway
Along the way, Neumann meets and falls in love with Rebekah Paltrow (cousin of Gwyneth), a relatively stern, no-nonsense woman who, like Adam, is lying to herself about who she is. Rebekah is played by Anne Hathaway, a much-maligned actor who has been utterly brilliant in films like Rachel Getting Married and Colossal, but rarely does a great Hathaway performance receive its due. She, too, goes all-in with her performance, modifying her physicality and entire disposition in an anomalistic way for the actor. She modulates her voice into something deeper and smooth, her whole gait straightened and cocky, her gestures subtle.
It makes sense that both Leto and Hathaway executive produced WeCrashed; there was something mouthwateringly juicy about these roles which the actors knew they wanted to sink their teeth into, and they feast away like it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. It’s almost embarrassing at times, in the best possible way, watching them fully plunge into the occasionally bizarre mannerisms and exaggerated personalities, as when Hathaway adapts a truly (purposefully) awful Russian accent when Rebekah is starring as Masha in a performance of Checkhov’s Three Sisters. These are people who lack self-awareness to the extent that there’s barely any self left to be aware of.
That scene was hardly the only moment with an awkward accent. Jared Leto got a lot of flack for his Italian accent in The House of Gucci; screenwriter Roberto Bentivegna didn’t write it with him or even Italian accents in mind. Leto was mocked for sounding like Super Mario, what with his exaggerated Italian accent. He does it here as well, operating with an extremely heavy Israeli accent (reminiscent of the bold, bizarre accent of Julia Garner in Inventing Anna); there is the temptation to say that his performance here, like in several other films, basically screams ‘Look at me, I’m acting!’ Again though, comparing his mannerisms and tone to the actual Adam Neumann, one finds that he’s almost manifesting the businessman. He’s eerily like him, except (as with Hathaway) more Hollywood-pretty.
The two of them make a wonderful couple as they fall and bounce back numerous times throughout the gradual success of WeWork. The actors have great chemistry together, and the characters form an interesting relationship not often seen on screens, where their professional and personal lives have melded into one, almost as much as their personalities have. Leto and Hathaway are absolutely outstanding, even uncomfortably so, but the show is simply by-the-numbers and derivative. Certainly, some celebrities would make for great biopics, but not every single news article and podcast needs a feature film or miniseries based on it.
WeCrashed and the Art of BS
WeCrashed looks and sounds amazing, though. It has a sleek polish to it, with swiftly gliding camerawork and perfect lighting, and everything is filmed beautifully, even the ugliest things, with help from cinematographers Xavier Grobet and Corey Walter. The music is phenomenal as well, not just the soundtrack cuts but especially the score from Christopher Nicholas Bangs. Yes, it does sound a little like a peppier version of Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor’s Oscar-winning score from The Social Network (big surprise), but it completely works here. Its digital ambience and synthy arpeggios create solid motifs and build atmosphere and tension throughout.
Co-creator and writer Lee Eisenberg (along with Drew Crevello) brings some of the same low-stakes situational humor he delivered in The Office and Hello Ladies, and WeCrashed, while not exactly a comedy, does have some funny moments. There is something inherently comical about the con artist and his or her desperate attempt to trick and fool everyone. As Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt wrote in On Bullsh*t, the practice is an art:
One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullsh*t […it] is a greater enemy of truth than lies are.
Adam Neumann was brilliant at bull, a master manipulator who somehow created a $45 million valuation of a $500,000 company out of thin air, and whose BS brought him and his company literally billions of dollars. Even after it came crashing down, and he was forced to resign as CEO in 2019, Neumann still has a net worth of $1.6 billion. If Frankfurt is right, and we are in an age of BS, then Neumann and Anna Delvey of Inventing Anna are its patron saints.
The problem with these kinds of shows and movies, and the whole ‘ripped from the headlines‘ concept, is that most people know the story and how it ends. Thus, the characters, writing, and filmmaking has to be specifically unique to warrant any interest beyond people wanting to see actors perform the news. WeCrashed does a slick, efficient job at telling the story made popular not just by news headlines but by a podcast, WeCrashed: The Rise and Fall of WeWork, from Wondery.
However, its good job has been done (and is being done) so many times. Its iteration of the sociopathy capitalism can create is a solid creation, but it doesn’t stand out any more than the aforementioned shows. For some reason, this character has become fascinating to filmmakers and, if the success of Inventing Anna is any indication, audiences as well. Are these BS artists the new representation of the American Dream? What does the cultural fascination toward them indicate? It’s almost as if Patrick Bateman from American Psycho has become a role model — as if the satire has become reality; at least Bateman balanced his business side with some bloodletting, creating something exciting and provocative in the process.