The latest grifter series ‘WeCrashed’ casts its gaze on power couple at centre of failed WeWork

Will Gwyneth be watching?

That was one question that gnawed as I took to previewing all of “WeCrashed,” a glossy, hopped-up eight-part series starting Friday on Apple TV Plus. Dipping down on one of the most colossal corporate collapses in recent memory — the $47-billion mirage that was WeWork — it stars Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway as Adam and Rebekah Neumann, the bewilderingly yoga-mat-happy couple behind the co-work start-up.

The latter — as followers of the real-life six-degrees saga will recall — is a Paltrow by birth (no joke). And the series itself wastes little time plumbing some of the psychological footprint of Rebekah being the less accomplished first cuz of Gwyn (a failed actress first cousin to boot! One who, at her own wedding, has scores of guests asking, “Is Gwyneth coming?”).

I know, I know. Some of you might have grifter fatigue. I get it. “WeCrashed” adds to a groaning buffet lately of series about serial scammers and/or dubious tech geniuses. Think: “Inventing Anna,” the recent examination of fake heiress Anna Delvey/Sorokin on Netflix; the Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos number “The Dropout,” courtesy of Hulu and Disney Plus; and “Super Pumped,” the Showtime (and Crave) show about Uber founder Travis Kalanick, to name a few. But while all of those had their smarmy charms — I, for one, never suffer from grifter fatigue — this adaptation is probably my favourite. I ate it up.

While the others centred their narratives on the Ripley-esque con and/or craven appetite for acceptance/success, this does all that and also casts its gaze firmly on the couple at the heart of it. The company is the marriage and the marriage is the story. In other words, a couple who indulge each other in their worst respective instincts and, well, give rope to one another’s delusions.

If the Neumanns reminded me of anyone from the screen, big or small, it was the Underwoods. The Neumanns may not be as capital-M Machiavellian as the infamous power-duo from “House of Cards,” but there is a distinct echo. A Kombucha-drinking, sneaker-clad, hipster-y New York answer to the Underwoods. Hathaway, who is captivating as Rebekah (her most fully formed performance, in my view, since “Rachel Getting Married”) is Claire Underwood — albeit a Claire in high-waisted jeans and Argan-oil-tousled locks. Leto, as Adam, is the YOLO answer to Frank Underwood, complete with Zoolander strut and an Israeli accent.

As much as this is the story of a couple — currently, they have six, six! children together — I must reiterate it’s Rebekah who most intrigued me. Her emotions are so coiled up, so snaked in psychobabble and vision boards and bouts of “manifesting,” she is like a Coke can waiting to burst. Not that she would ever drink Coke.

Would Adam have come as far as he did — landing on the cover of Forbes, making it to the Time 100 list — without Rebekah? According to the treatise presented here, the answer is a howling no. And not just because Rebekah’s father provided the moolah for their start-up in the first place.

“She was 100 per cent the CEO of the relationship.” What a close friend of Rebekah told Bustle in a must-read profile, published in 2020.

Two words came to mind the further I got into the series: toxic positivity. If there was ever a manual for it, as well as cautionary tale, it is here. And it actually reminded me, in so many ways, of the kind of good-vibes-only hashtag-ery we saw a lot of during the pandemic. Rebekah is one of those people who jazz-hands their way through inner turmoil, their deferred dreams and soul-killing jobs, an avoidance strategy that attempts to shoo away any internal discomfort but ultimately often causes more harm and flattens empathy.

While the stakes are admittedly higher in this story — WeWork crashes because, in part, the couple do not want to hear any negativity — it struck me that this story is part of a bigger parable: how Adam and Rebekah represent a rampant culture of self. Self-aggrandizing. Self-obsessed. Self-involved. Self-help. All the selves.

The show, based on a podcast of the same name, starts with Adam’s firing by the board and gingerly loops back; the final episode showing the epilogue. The Katy Perry song “Roar,” a hymn heard throughout the production, often to wonderfully absurdist effect, melts down then to a slowed-down, bittersweet, symphonic version in those final minutes.

It is no spoiler to reveal that it ends with a coup d’état, to my mind the most exciting corporate battle I have seen this side of “Succession.” With the Neumanns thrown to the curb, they are advised by their high-paid communications advisers to go into a foxhole, no emails, no phones, no texts, no false moves. “You are not paying us to fight back, you are paying us to deflect, to stop the bleeding,” one of those aces tells them.

“You are not people. You are products. The media sold you once as unicorns, now they will sell you as villains.”

You helped! You more than helped! is what I yelled at the screen.

Codependency and reciprocity. That is the story of “WeCrashed,” power shifting and flowing within a marriage, like the pooling of different straits. “You are small. You have no light of your own,” a colleague tells Rebekah at one point, before she levels up, takes back her influence, even going about starting her own school using some of her signature psychobabble.

Weirdly, too, both of them — as played by Leto and Hathaway — seem almost asexual, as someone else snarks in an episode. “They do not have sex. They just levitate and their souls f — kin’ meld,” this employee says.

What is never in doubt, however? The extent to which Adam and Rebekah clearly saw themselves as stars of their own movie. Or should we say eight-part series?

Shinan Govani is a Toronto-based freelance contributing columnist covering culture and society. Follow him on Twitter: @shinangovani


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