Mr. Ripley meets Gossip Girl in this breezy miniseries from Shonda Rhimes.
“This story is completely true. Except for the parts that are totally made up.” This message (or something similar) opens each episode of Inventing Anna, Netflix’s 9-episode miniseries about famed faked heiress Anna Delvey/Anna Sorokin. Inspired by Jessica Pressler’s 2018 article “Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It,” Inventing Anna is a frothy journalism adventure/crime caper. It’s The Talented Mr. Ripley as filtered through Gossip Girl (but don’t worry–sans the murder).
Produced by Shonda Rhimes, the cast is a who’s who of Shondaland favorites: Katie Lowes, Jeff Perry, Kate Burton, anchored by Anna Chlumsky as Vivian, the Pressler stand-in, and Julia Garner doing her absolute best Eurotrash accent as Delvey. Vivian is a disgraced journalist pregnant with her first child when she stumbles upon Delvey’s story–a young woman who has managed to defraud a number of wealthy individuals, banks, and hotels, all while pretending to be the German heiress to an energy fortune, albeit one always just waiting for her trust to come in. Vivian visits Anna at Rikers Island, and the pair develop an uneasy… something. It’s never quite a friendship (is Anna capable of such a thing?), and Vivian finds herself understanding the thrall in which Anna held her various hangers-on and victims.
Each episode focuses primarily on one of Anna’s whirlwind of victims, including philanthropists and tech billionaires. Eventually, it whittles down to the three women, most likely Anna’s closest friends. There’s hotel concierge Neff (Alexis Floyd), who sees Anna as an inspiration and as a lonely girl in over her head; high profile personal trainer and life coach Kacy Duke (Laverne Cox), who assumes an almost maternal feeling towards Anna, at least for a while; and Rachel Williams (Lowes), a Vanity Fair employee who is eager to spend time in Anna’s circle until a devastating trip to Marrakesh. (Williams would write about this trip in her own piece, “As an Added Bonus, She Paid for Everything”).
As time ticks down on Vivian’s two deadlines–her story and her pregnancy–we are also treated to a collection of fabulous Anna miscellany as the people who encountered her tell their stories. Anna remains a beautiful enigma. An opening montage shows the myriad of different backstories and impressions people had of her. She’s a businesswoman, she’s a socialite. Her money comes from oil, from art, from mobsters. She was beautiful, she was okay.
[S]ettle in for an utterly bingeable bit of fluff about a woman who is never quite who she claims to be.
The bulk of the episodes lead to what we know will be the outcome of the final two, Anna’s trial, so there is a lack of actual twists or surprises, especially for anyone who has followed the story in real life. However, the beauty of Inventing Anna comes from experiencing Anna’s sheer audacity. Did she really do these things? Did she really throw around $100 bills as tips yet duck out of $300 dinner bills? How did someone so obviously lying convince so many important, intelligent people that she was legit?
These questions, of course, lend themselves to the issues inherent in a soapy adaptation of this story. Is it glorifying Anna’s crimes to show them in a fashion-heavy, glamourous light? Until the Moroccan trip, Anna is primarily bilking the rich and powerful. Does that make her the villain or the heroine of the people? There are no answers for these questions in Inventing Anna, but it doesn’t seem interested in providing them.
The miniseries is chockfull of strong performances, but it’s the leads Chlumsky and Garner who make it sparkle. Without Chlumsky’s determined faces and visceral frustration, Vivian could easily be yet another pregnant protagonist, a journalistic cliche; instead, we get a tired and complicated woman. Garner’s Delvey is a bundle of contradictions. An ambitious young woman who has dreams of starting a business. A broken girl crying in the lobby of her friend’s building. A haughty woman of the world who cannot believe that she’s being asked for something as pedestrian as a credit card. I cannot talk enough about this accent, either. It’s a choice and a beautiful one. At the end of the series, attempts to provide a backstory for Anna fall flat—she’s best as a mystery.
Inventing Anna is no documentary, nor does it claim to be. Read some outside sources if you want the facts, otherwise settle in for an utterly bingeable bit of fluff about a woman who is never quite who she claims to be.
Inventing Anna cons you on Netflix starting February 11.