Shonda Rhimes Drama Doesn’t Quite Get Under the Skin of Real-Life Scammer Anna Delvey

Netflix

Anna Delvey was an apparent German heiress who managed to impress and dupe New York high society. Well-dressed and charming, she convinced the elite she was the next best thing. Her poise and wit somehow managed to fool the rich into giving away thousands of their dollars. Inventing Anna doesn’t quite explain how she actually managed to get away with it.

Delvey, real name Sorokin, was charged with various counts of larceny alongside numerous other crimes. In April 2019, she was found guilty of eight charges. Shonda Rimes explores the multi-layered yarn that led to her arrest through to eyes of a fictional journalist.

If you’re looking for an in-depth analytical exploration into her behaviour, this won’t be the Netflix drama for you. If you’re looking for a Real Housewives meet Gossip Girl drama about scamming the snobby wealthy of New York, you’re in for a treat. Enjoy designer clothing, interior design porn and globe-trotting but just don’t expect a Succession style script.

Julia Garner (Ozark) nails the charm as Anna, every witty and cutting line delivered with a Russian-German accent worthy of Tommy Wiseau in The Room. She keeps Anna human enough to not be the villain, despite her terrible behaviour. Garner’s portrayal of Russian Anna is perfectly layered and flawlessly realized. She is sweet and charming, sharp and defensive, and sometimes just a little weird.

We meet Anna through the eyes of journalist Vivian Kent, played by Anna Chlumsky (Veep). Kent, a writer for Manhattan magazine, is based on the real-life writer Jessica Pressler who introduced the world to the fascinating world of Anna Delvey. Pressler also wrote the article 2019’s Hustlers was based on.

Netflix

Kent is every journalist cliché, looking for her one career-making story after a previous incident lost her a job at Bloomberg. Expecting her first child, there is a lack of depth to this character despite Chlumsky’s likeable performance. It hits all the expected notes of a pregnant journalist looking for redemption after public humiliation. As immensely charming as Anna Chlumsky is, Delvey’s story is too interesting to waste watching journalists at desks and ultrasound appointments. Even if you’re unaware that Kent isn’t real, you get the feeling she only exists to be the narrator, rather than a real person with a personality. 

We learn about Anna through Vivienne’s eyes, as she interviews those embroiled in Anna’s life and meets Delivery in Riker’s prison. Every episode is dedicated to a new victim in her scam, whether it’s a wealth-obsessed influencer, investment banker or the concierge she calls a friend. The scam and the betrayal get bigger and bigger, as Vivien unravels Anna’s life. 

The show begins to feel a little stale in the middle but picks up in the middle thanks to Katie Lowe’s (Scandal) Rachel DeLoache Williams. Her fraught friendship with Anna was also made into a Vanity Fair article and a 2019 book called My Friend Anna. Their Moroccan holiday from hell is a series highlight, but it doesn’t make up for the cringe-y dialogue and unsatisfying ending.

Anna is doesn’t get redemption. She did bad things and Inventing Anna never pretends otherwise. She is condescending to Vivian for not having the right clothing and looking poor. But, when you see how the elite looked down on her for not wearing designer clothing, for not knowing the right people, you can’t help but feel a little sympathetic for her. She wanted to succeed as a nobody in New York, yet to make money, you need to have money. In some ways, it’s not her fault people were so eager to believe her.

Creator Shonda Rhimes feels like the right person for this job. Famed for Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder and Bridgeton, very few understand the downfall of the privileged like Rhimes. Inventing Anna has a lot Rhimes fans will enjoy about her work. The heroes are weak and troubled, the villains are sympathetic and layered. It’s also delivered through the glossy lens of a glamorous show that doesn’t get too bogged down by reality. 

The nine-episode run, which often lasts for over an hour each, can feel heavy. There isn’t enough source material to justify this length. It relies too much on mysteries that aren’t hard to solve and the private life of lawyers, bank employees and journalists. The writers spend too much time dropping hints through the guise of journalism, even if many of us already know the answer.

Inventing Anna fails to get under the skin of one of the most prolific modern scammers. Vivien Kent spends the whole show trying to understand how she did it and why people fell for it. She never really answers these questions. Inventing Anna delivers a nine-episode yarn about the ridiculousness of society and how many doors pretending to be rich can open.

Inventing Anna is available to stream on Netflix.

by Amelia Harvey

Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy

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