“Inventing Anna” tells the juicy story of the fake heiress Anna Delvey, who swindled New York’s elite out of hundreds of thousands of dollars – if only the show had faith in its own premise.
Now streaming on Netflix, “Inventing Anna” is based on a viral 2018 New York Magazine article about Delvey (nee Sorokin), 31 — Russian-born and raised in Germany — who defrauded banks, hotels and acquaintances while posing as a trust-fund heiress in New York between 2013-2017. She was convicted for multiple accounts of grand larceny, indicted in 2017 and incarcerated from 2019-2021.
Helmed by Shonda Rhimes and starring Julia Garner (“Ozark”) — a skilled actress who seems to have been given bad directing to hide behind a distracting marble-mouthed accent to play Delvey — “Inventing Anna” is a bloated affair, with episodes regularly clocking in at over an hour, which feels punishing. (One episode is an egregiously unnecessary 82 minutes long.)
Each episode starts with an onscreen graphic that reads: “This story is completely true. Except for the parts that are totally made up.”
It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but it’s telling about “Inventing Anna” as a whole: this series would have done better to stick to the truth, which is already interesting, instead of weighing it down with fictional embellishments. The end result feels like wasted potential.
Delvey’s story begs the question of how a young 20something woman managed to con her way through the upper echelons of Manhattan, but the show seems wishy-washy over what direction to take — compensating for this by taking multiple zigs and zags to chaotic effect.
The narrative leaps around in time. It starts with “Manhattan Magazine” journalist Vivian Kent (Anna Chlumsky) — who’s loosely based on Jessica Pressler (who wrote the 2018 Delvey story) — as she investigates Delvey and interviews her in prison, trying to piece together the puzzle of who this woman is and establish a dynamic not unlike Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs.” Aside from her clunky accent, Garner plays Delvey with scenery-chewing relish, a mix of Lecter and Meryl Streep’s snobby “Devil Wears Prada” character Miranda Priestly.
Outside of these prison interview scenes, “Inventing Anna” takes a slapdash journey into Delvey’s past as Kent seeks out her acquaintances, including fitness guru Kacy Duke (Laverne Cox) and socialite Nora Radford (Kate Burton, “Scandal”), who reminisce about and offer differing accounts of Delvey. (One friend says Delvey dated a lot, another says she didn’t date at all.)
The whole affair feels disorganized, and a baffling amount of screen time is spent on Vivian’s her career ambitions, her ill-timed pregnancy and her relationship with her husband Jack (Anders Holm, “Workaholics”).
There’s nothing wrong with a story about a journalist and her home life. But on this particular series, nobody is tuning in for that. Framing it through Vivian is an ill-advised choice – as a journalist, I can attest to the fact that we are not very interesting!
“Inventing Anna” ends up being an odd title for the show. Despite prompting from Vivian and Delvey’s former friends, that question is never answered in satisfactory fashion.
Ultimately, “Inventing Anna” seems like it’s depicting a stranger-than-fiction, but it’s a surface-level, half-hearted attempt to show us recognizable images – including Delvey’s large, black-framed glasses and cocky demeanor. It’s not enough to sustain a series.
Like Delvey herself, “Inventing Anna” is all flash with little substance — offering little insight into this enigmatic figure.