Lively, timely documentary about the rise and fall of your average Internet start-up, in this case a New York company called govworks.com, which offered people the ability to pay their parking tickets online instead of going through the Herculean tasks of, you know, buying a stamp and mailing in a check.
Rather than wasting our time detailing the obvious (the Internet industry's Gold Rush mentality of 1998-99, the layoffs and shutdowns of 2000), Startup.com stays tightly focused on two things: the rigors of funding a company with such a shaky business plan (shedding some light – but not enough – on that mystifying question of why so many Internet startups, with the most half-baked moneymaking schemes imaginable, were given millions of dollars by otherwise shrewd investors); and the testy friendship between the company's founders, Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and Tom Herman, who had been close since childhood.
Smartly, over the course of the film's two-year scope, the thrust shifts from the business (after all, Hegedus and Noujaim were as bamboozled as the rest of us, believing at first that they were making a film about hotshot entrepreneurs in a burgeoning new economy) to the friendship in a hugely appropriate way. It's a gripping story with two very complex characters – the money-hungry Tuzman, who never quite becomes likable, and the humanistic Herman, who sees personal relationships as more important than a successful company.
Herman, in fact, comes to embody the filmmakers' – as well as this reviewer's – sentiment that the Internet frenzy turned decent people into overambitious, arrogant jerks, and that the crash was necessary to force those people into rethinking their priorities and their values. We'll always have obnoxious blowhards like Kaleil Isaza Tuzman to put up with, but as long as they are tempered by the Tom Hermans of the world, there may be hope.