‘Inventing Anna’s’ greatest failure: It’s as shallow as its subject

A woman in a red dress and head scarf stands before a glimmering sea.
Julia Garner as Anna Delvey in Netflix’s “Inventing Anna.”
(Aaron Epstein / Netflix)
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From “Fyre Fraud” to “The Tinder Swindler,” con artists and their schemes have provided an endless font of material for television docuseries. No need to labor over fictional narratives about brazen frauds when reality has given us Elizabeth Holmes and Bernie Madoff. But in the spirit of fixing something that’s not broken, scripted dramas, based on docuseries, books or magazine articles, which were in turn retellings of true stories, are now vying for space in the true-ish crime world.

Before “The Dropout” (Theranos) and “WeCrashed” (WeWork) arrive next month, Shonda Rhimes’ drama “Inventing Anna” premieres Friday on Netflix. The series, about a self-proclaimed German heiress who conned millions from Manhattan’s rich and powerful, is based on a true story, though all 10 hourlong episodes begin with a disclaimer that the show is true “except for all the parts that are totally made up.” What’s clear is that the narrative is adapted from “Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It,” Jessica Pressler’s 2018 New York magazine article about Anna Delvey, a.k.a. Anna Sorokin, a bright young thing who befriended “New York’s party people,” as the story had it, and used them to prop up her life of lies and excess.


Delvey’s story is riveting. The series, sadly, is not. It’s five hours too long and far too formulaic to keep up with its brazen protagonist, played here by “Ozark’s” Julia Garner. But for all its problems, it’s hard to stop watching “Inventing Anna” as it chronicles Delvey’s brilliant grift, from credit card scams to multimillion-dollar banking swindles, Paris Fashion Week to Rikers Island.

Anna’s elaborate ruses are intoxicating, commanding attention even as the show’s pacing sags into the rhythms of an old (and predictable) broadcast network drama. It doesn’t help that its thinly veiled version of Pressler, frumpy Manhattan magazine reporter Vivian Kent (Anna Chlumsky), is 110% less compelling than the scammer she’s chasing. The promise is that Anna’s house of cards will collapse and whoever is truly behind those oversize designer glasses will be revealed.

A woman standing for a mugshot
Julia Garner as Anna Delvey in “Inventing Anna.”
(Nicole Rivelli / Netflix)

Anna is not a relatable personality, but Garner connects through her character’s idiosyncrasies: She may be conniving, but look closely and there are flashes of doubt and insecurity in her otherwise ice-cold gaze. She saunters through Bergdorf Goodman like a queen, but that subtle tick in her lip or awkward hair flip connotes she’s on the edge of ruin. The bizarre accent, however, is problematic. The garbled Russian/German/snooty America mix sounds utterly ridiculous.

If you enjoy a hate-watch, “Inventing Anna” at least has that going for it. Anna is an entitled monster much of the time. She intimidates with moneyed arrogance and, when that fails, manipulates by any means necessary (guilt, sex appeal, grossly transparent praise, even threats of self-harm). Her sycophantic friends aren’t much better. Photo editor Rachel (Katie Lowes) and hotel clerk Neff (Alexis Floyd) follow her like thirsty Heathers vying for her validation. The vapid trio’s collective obsession with living large on social media is fun to despise.

HBO’s “McMillions” and AMC’s “Quiz” show why we can’t get enough of the grift — while introducing a new type of character into the trend.

March 6, 2020

Personal trainer Kacy (Laverne Cox) is one of a few people in Anna’s orbit who senses something is wrong, and she’s ultimately one of the only ones who doesn’t get hurt. New York City bankers and philanthropists, represented here by the likes of Anthony Edwards and Kate Burton, aren’t so lucky: Anna convinces them she has enough capital in her overseas trust fund to erect a large complex in the city dedicated to the arts and promises to transfer funds once she’s able to cut through the international red tape. It’d be best if they invested now, of course, before the project takes off. She’ll pay them back as soon as her money arrives!


“Inventing Anna” devotes plenty of attention to glamorous locales (Paris, Ibiza, Morocco) and Kent/Pressler’s attempt to revive her reputation as a journalist after falling victim to a hoax — that’s based on a true story too — but fails to unravel the case’s most important question: Not who would fall for this, but why? (And plenty of people did, despite the apparent warning signs: According to Pressler, Garner‘s version of the voice is “exactly” like the real deal.) With a victim-of-the-week episode structure, the series delivers mini-portraits of those Delvey swindled, mostly without digging into their motivations.

Like Delvey’s persona, “Inventing Anna” lives mostly on the surface, and though you might believe it for a moment, that feeling will surely pass.

‘Inventing Anna’

Where: Netflix

When: Anytime starting Feb. 11

Rating: Not rated