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Netflix's Inventing Anna is too enamored with its grifter protagonist

  • The Shonda Rhimes Netflix series starring Julia Garner as socialite scammer Anna Delvey "was the perfect vehicle for producing biting commentary on contemporary class and gender mores — from venture capitalism to the philanthropic industrial complex," says Alessa Dominguez. "Instead, the show sticks too closely to its protagonists’ own script to really tell us anything new." Dominguez adds: "The show emphasizes that Anna had skills, that she really knew how to act upper class — with supposedly chic underdressing — and was some kind of genius, as she woos rich friends (all fictional composite characters) while posing as an heir with a trust fund. This becomes especially apparent when she convinces a rich husband of a friend to invest in a venture capital bullsh*t startup, Wake (probably the most accurate satire in the entire series, it’s an app that instrumentalizes dreams). He ends up dating her. They break up through a power struggle when she starts really wanting to build her own thing, the Anna Delvey Foundation. The comedy of the fact that she specifically wanted to be paid to be a philanthropic socialite is completely glossed over. Instead, the series insists on imbuing Anna with the noblest of motives: naïveté and belief in the goodness of her project."


    • Julia Garner is miscast as Anna Delvey, which is why her performance is perfect: In Inventing Anna, Garner is disconcerting to watch, in part because her performance in Inventing Anna is itself a con: says Eden Arielle Gordon. "In contrast to her past performances, Garner never lets the audience see what’s beyond Anna’s many facades," says Gordon. "Instead, she’s all smoke and mirrors, false smiles and manufactured breakdowns; the performance itself is a con. At times, Garner’s character choices in Inventing Anna—all the inconsistency and evasiveness, with that awful accent as the cherry on top—might make some feel cheated, or even like she botched the role. Along with much of the rest of this Shonda Rhimes–produced series, which is altogether underwhelming, overlong, and a bit shallow, Garner’s acting may not be enjoyable to watch. But in the end, her ability to resist boxes of femininity or palatability actually makes her perfect for the role and the story. Her unsettling and opaque performance embodies some of the emptiness and the lies inherent in extreme wealth and the pursuit of it, an emptiness that is at the heart of the Delvey story."
    • Inventing Anna turns Anna Delvey into a "girlboss": The Shonda Rhimes series "is equal parts confounded by and enamored with the real-life con woman at its center. Thus, the show largely buys her bull," says Emma Gray. "Delvey, who posed as a German heiress, traipsed around New York City tipping $100 bills, living in luxury hotels and trying to launch a proposed $40 million art foundation, leaving a trail of conned financial institutions and acquaintances in her wake. She was convicted in 2019 on eight charges, including second-degree grand larceny, attempted grand larceny and theft of services. (She was found not guilty on attempted grand larceny in the first-degree, however, and also acquitted of stealing $60,000 from a Vanity Fair editor and friend.) But she’s not a regular scammer, Inventing Anna posits. She’s a cool scammer, a millennial scammer, a hustle-culture scammer. She’s a girlboss who bossed a little too hard and flew a little too close to the sun...Delvey is all of us, the Netflix series coos as we binge nine long (too long! Way too long!) episodes — or at least a part of all of us. The part that wants and wants and wants. And wouldn’t it be delicious to see a young woman get what she wants? Or at least metaphorically die trying?"
    • Inventing Anna cheated its audience: "You’d be hard pressed to find a show with more reliably interesting attention hooks than Inventing Anna," says Adrian Horton. "There’s the creator: (Shonda) Rhimes, the master of the modern soap opera, adapting a true story for the first time. There’s Julia Garner, the breakout star of Netflix’s Ozark, transforming into Anna – perpetual scowl, bracingly harsh accent from nowhere. And there’s the source material: the 2018 New York magazine article by Jessica Pressler, which quickly became one of the most-read of the year and a surefire bet in the by-then churning article-to-screen pipeline." But instead of a stellar show, Horton says, "there’s a middling simulacrum of wealthy New York, heavy-handed writing, lots of wide-eyed gesticulation by Vivian, and the bait-and-switch of a journalism plot over Anna’s manipulations. Inventing Anna is simultaneously too interested in an inscrutable, wildly mercurial scammer – at the expense of her friends, associates, even her lawyer’s confounding, fascinating loyalty to her – and not interested enough in her appeal beyond money. The dramatization of facts and stories already in print makes for a good idea – it’s wild material – but this blend distracts more than informs, a skim of the familiar with little payoff."
    • Inventing Anna embraces tiresome pregnancy tropes: "Television loves a good cliché, and pregnancy is the good one that never stops giving," says Amy Amatangelo. "There’s so much natural, innate drama in pregnancy and the desire to become pregnant that too often TV writers hit the same themes and notes on an endless closed circuit loop." She adds: "Inventing Anna... leans hard into one of the pregnancy’s most familiar tropes: Can a woman balance a career with being a mom? Does she have to sacrifice one for the other?...Inventing Anna sets up Vivian’s pregnancy as an almost binary choice: She can be a mom or she can be a journalist. The show struggles with the concept that she could be both."
    • Inventing Anna's depiction of journalism is "atrocious": The Netflix series doesn't know what an ethical journalist looks like. "Journalist Vivian is a bad employee," says Alison Stine. "And not in the Erin Brockovich, going to get to the bottom of this injustice way. But bad in the way of: She disregards her work assignments and lies about where she is during the work day. She lies to get in to visit Anna at Rikers, pretending she's not on a media visit (because it takes too long to get approval) but a personal one. She manipulates the outcome of Anna's trial by convincing the young woman not to take a plea bargain. And she does so because it's better for Vivian's own story...There are other fallacies about journalism in this show that stars a journalist. The offices of Manhattan magazine are giant, filled with a happy, huge staff that has apparently never seen the layoffs that ravaged much of the journalism industry. Staffers seem to write about a story a month each. Vivian has weeks upon weeks to write her story, and when she's given even more time to write, my partner — who is also a journalist — and I burst into raucous laughter."
    • Former Vanity Fair writer Rachel Williams, whom Delvey scammed out of $62,00 and whom Katie Lowes portrays, was shocked at how sympathetic Inventing Anna was with its subject: “I think promoting this whole narrative and celebrating a sociopathic, narcissistic, proven criminal is wrong,” Williams, who also objected to Netflix paying Sorokin, told Vanity Fair in her first interview about the series. “Having had a front-row seat to (the Anna circus) for far too long, I’ve studied the way a con works more than anybody needs to. You watch the spectacle, but you’re not paying attention to what’s being marketed.” The way Williams sees it, Netflix and Shonda Rhimes were conned into believing that Sorokin was a special and even inspiring person—just like Williams was.
    • Inventing Anna's costume designers were told to have fun: “And we did,” says Lyn Paolo who served as co-costume designer with Laura Frecon. Paolo says they were able to “play in the giant world of fashion” and, as a result, they 80-85% of what Anna Delvey wore. “I don’t think any show I’ve done -- even Scandal -- I have gone through that volume of couture clothing,” says Paolo, explaining that because Garner is practically in every scene, “the amount of costumes that went through our shop every week was quite significant.” 
    • Katie Lowes thinks the real Anna is terrifying: "It really felt like my first experience with a sociopath," says Lowes. "There’s absolutely no remorse or empathy or ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and I know Julia felt that way when she was playing her. I felt it, especially when I was in scenes opposite her. I remember being in Rachel’s shoes and thinking, How were we friends and you have absolutely no remorse? There’s no such thing as an apology. I’ve no interest in meeting the real Anna Sorokin. I think she’s terrifying."
    • Neff Davis, who turned her real friendship with Anna into paid consulting gig on Inventing Anna, has no regrets: "Shondaland and Shonda Rhimes picked me up. And they were like, 'We want you to be the consultant,'" says Davis. "And Shonda was like, 'Actually, it’s more than a consultant. I know you wanna make film. I want you to come on set. I want you to shadow directors. I want you to learn the cameras and how a production is made.' And I was like, 'That’s more than what was offered from anyone else.' Everyone was just like, sell your life rights and get out of there. But Shonda nurtured my film bone."
    • Alexis Floyd, who plays Neff, was just as fascinated by the power dynamic when she booked the role over two and a half years ago
    • Arian Moayed compares working on Inventing Anna vs. Succession: “On Succession, the vast majority of my scenes are with dudes,” he points out to Vanity Fair. When asked who, between Garner’s Anna Delvey and Sarah Snook’s Shiv Roy, is the ultimate red-headed girlboss, he chuckles. “I love both of them so dearly. I think Stewy and Shiv need a scene together," he says. "I’m gonna say Shiv.”
    • New York magazine reporter and Inventing Anna consultant Jessica Pressler explains what's real and what's not on the show
    • Anna Sorokin on Netflix reportedly paying her $320,000 for her life rights: "I paid $198,000-something for restitution, which I have paid off in its entirety and right away, and the rest of it to my legal fees," she says. 

    TOPICS: Inventing Anna, Netflix, Alexis Floyd, Anna "Delvey" Sorokin, Arian Moayed, Jessica Pressler, Julia Garner, Katie Lowes, Lyn Paolo, Neff Davis, Shonda Rhimes, Costume Design, Journalism