There’s something about grifters with fake voices that (to quote Will Ferrell from Blades of Glory, as later sampled by a certain Jay-Z and Kanye song), really “gets the people going.” These grifters are having a moment, really. One only need to reflect upon the Elizabeth Holmes saga and wonder if those courtside cosplayers are really devoted fans, but it’s impossible to deny being intrigued by the long game played by Holmes (leading up to a white-collar trial and convictions), and the same goes for Anna Delvey. Make that, uh, Anna Sorokin. Who? Exactly.
We’ll soon see Amanda Seyfried morphing into deep-voice territory as Holmes in Hulu’s The Dropout, but sooner than that, Julia Garner is making her way to Netflix with the unusually-accented Delvey in Inventing Anna. Is it German with a touch of Russian or something altogether different? And who the hell is Anna Delvey, anyway? The latter is a question that gets asked in this show, by many people but most explicitly by Anna Chlumsky’s Vivian, a dogged journalist who’s also attempting to settle a career score by captivating the masses with Delvey’s story.
Vivian is based loosely upon Jessica Pressler, who published the New York magazine profile called “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People.” Expect some hefty dramatization and a reimagining of Vivian’s professional and personal lives, which feel crafted to give the overarching story a sense of structure. Otherwise, it might simply be a disjointed mess of dastardly financial deeds from Ms. Delvey/Sorokin. Oh, but what a fascinating mess this turns out to be. Shondaland very rarely misses, after all.
The story of Anna Delvey comes to sordid life (with some beats that match up exactly to Pressler’s original piece, and other benders that may or may not be invented) in what begins as a showcase for Julia Garner, in the midst of her final Ozark lap and with even more scandal than her Dirty John character endured in that dramatized real-life story. Anna’s in jail when we meet her, after she’s allegedly left a tornado-like path of financial ruin for those who felt compelled to climb onboard with her infuriatingly vague business plans. Yet nearly no one seems immune to her charms. People wanted to believe in her twisted version of the American Dream, one in which she posed as an impossibly wealthy heiress/socialite/Instagram star and tossed out $100 valet tips.
In reality, Anna’s seemingly piggybacking off of friends and fleeting mentors and everyone else while waiting for that wire transfer. You see, her credit cards are having problems due to being international. Dad will send the money soon. Don’t worry, the time zones are slowing things down. Oh, don’t worry. She’ll pay you back. Once she hears from Dad, or once that multi-million-dollar bank loan for the Anna Delvey Foundation comes in. You can see where this is all going from about fifty miles away, but the storytelling sleight of hand makes this show anything but predictable. In fact, the writers succeed at ratcheting up the tension to eleven, presenting some suspenseful and uncomfortable situations that keeps the characters and the audience on their toes, all after you thought this might only be Julia Garner as a Paris Hilton-inspired criminal.
Above with Garner, here’s ^^^ Katie Lowes as Rachel (who works plenty of emotional heft on what she endured), Laverne Cox as Kacy Duke (who largely knows all, in the way that many badass Laverne Cox characters do), and Alexis Floyd as Neff (who’ll defend Anna despite, you know, all of it). None of them will ever forget their time with Anna, that’s for sure, and these characters are well-drawn with personal lives and dreams and hopes and concerns and visions of red flags, all inspired by real-life developments. To varying degrees, watching them fall for Anna’s fraudster ways can make one scream at the camera while continuing to watch social hell unfold.
That is to say: the show’s not perfect, but it’s always entertaining. What made Anna the way she is, and does she ever feel remorse or develop in any way? The show attempts to answer those questions but doesn’t take them too seriously. Garner does get to have a ball with unusual accent work and wild wigs/glasses, and this is also a critique on the culture that allowed an Anna Delvey to prosper. Not only that, but she rose to the top of the pile without any true merit of her own, only that she’s “building something.” False promise upon false promise builds up, and more stunning than Anna’s ability to sell herself is the willingness of people to believe. They’re practically falling all over each other to do so, and that group of people ranges from deep-pocketed society mainstays to bankers to connected hotel employees to fellow Instagram wannabes and journalists.
One might be tempted to scoff at the excess (and discomfort) of it all, since it’s both difficult and surprisingly easy to see how these associates and friends fall for those lies. She exploits stereotypical American weaknesses in such a way that she reveals everything wrong in a system that let her flourish. She’s a melting pot of corruption and, in a way, she’s held out as a folk hero. A few rare people emerge unscathed from Anna’s path, but for the most part, she’s left a trail of immense debt in her wake with many others holding responsibility, and all of this eventually lands her in jail while a dramatic investigation and trial unfold. Anna’s life, and Garner’s portrayal, then take defiant turns, and the show turns into a mirror that might anger some people but also provides an opportunity to judge Anna and her victims accordingly.
Garner’s performance (and accent) are as electric as one would expect here, and it’s a real treat to watch her go. She’s surrounded by a cast that’s committed to bringing this tale of a super-grifter to life. And Shondaland captures eyeballs again, all while Bridgerton fans are waiting for the next installment of that addiction. Inventing Anna doesn’t lend itself to further exploration or spinoffs, but this sole season is filled to the brim with scandal. Who really is Anna Delvey, though? Hit “play” and find out.
Netflix’s ‘Inventing Anna’ debuts on February 11, 2022.