- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Flipboard
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Tumblr
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
It can be tempting to ascribe some declarative, definitive meaning to the real-life saga of Anna Delvey, and Vivian (Anna Chlumsky), the journalist pursuing the story in Shonda Rhimes’ fictionalized Inventing Anna, does try from time to time. It’s about women, insists Vivian. Or it’s about financial institutions. Or social mobility, or societal elites, or “the swindle that is the American dream.”
But Vivian doesn’t totally seem to buy her own interpretations, and no one else around her seems to either. Maybe there is no single explanation about what it all means. Rather than force one, the Netflix miniseries borrows a page from Delvey’s own playbook, recalibrating itself with each new chapter to consider a new facet of the tale. The results are occasionally messy and often unwieldy — most of its nine episodes clock in at over an hour each — but they’re also savvy, sly and compulsively watchable.
Airdate: Friday, Feb. 11 (Netflix)
Cast: Anna Chlumsky, Julia Garner, Arian Moayed, Katie Lowes, Alexis Floyd, Anders Holm, Anna Deavere Smith, Jeff Perry, Terry Kinney, Laverne Cox
Creator: Shonda Rhimes
Inspired by Jessica Pressler’s 2018 article for New York, Inventing Anna weaves together two different timelines. In late 2017, Vivian first hears about Anna (Julia Garner), a 20something woman who’s allegedly wormed her way into Manhattan’s glitterati by passing herself off as a German heiress. With reluctant permission from her editor (Tim Guinee), Vivian starts researching Anna’s background and talking with Anna’s former friends, colleagues and victims, as well as Anna herself.
Meanwhile, the narratives that Vivian collects are depicted as flashbacks that unfold in roughly chronological order, charting a journey from the front rows of Paris Fashion Week to the hard cots of Rikers. At the center of every story is Anna, of course, but what that means changes subtly depending on who’s telling it. High-end stylist Val (James Cusati-Moyer) might remember Anna as an ice queen with flawless taste, for example, while hotel concierge Neff (Alexis Floyd) paints her as a fussy but generous guest and friend.
The style of each episode shifts in accordance with the tone of each narrative — sometimes it detours into imaginary interludes or playful rewind effects, while at other times it takes a more quotidian approach. For her part, Anna insists all along that she’s a brilliant businesswoman who did nothing wrong, and bristles at anyone who dares dismiss her as just another “dumb socialite.” Garner all but disappears behind Anna’s thick Russian-German accent and chunky designer glasses, wielding an air of hauteur like an impenetrable shield.
Between all the secrets, betrayals and conflicting narratives, as well as Anna’s own larger-than-life personality, Inventing Anna never lacks for the kind of juicy drama that Netflix’s auto-play feature was made for. It’s frequently funny, thanks in large part to a finely honed bullshit detector — Inventing Anna knows exactly what it’s doing by introducing Anna’s boyfriend Chase (Saamer Usmani) through a grandiose TEDx talk. And though it’s stubbornly unsentimental (“You’re not special,” Anna scoffs of Vivian’s pregnancy), it’s not without feeling, finding flashes of camaraderie or vulnerability from unexpected corners.
Those who enjoy peeking into the lifestyles of the ultra-wealthy will find plenty to ogle here, though Inventing Anna is less interested in the designer goods that money can purchase than the frictionless existence it can guarantee. If you have enough cash to burn, even the coldness of tile ceases to be an inconvenient reality — you can simply buy floors heated to the precise temperature of the human body.
At its most compelling, Inventing Anna melds intimate personal arcs with bigger-picture studies of the ecosystems they unfold in. The series breaks down the logistics of Anna’s attempts to borrow tens of millions for her business idea — the Anna Delvey Foundation, basically a Soho House for rich artsy types — but also the more nebulous emotional reasons that one particular financial lawyer, Alan Reed (Anthony Edwards), falls as hard for her grift as he does. “This would make so much more sense if they were fucking,” Vivian huffs in confusion at one point, but motives are rarely so basic in Inventing Anna.
If Inventing Anna stops short of the biting satire of The Bling Ring or the pointed indignation of Hustlers (the latter another scam artist saga based on reporting by Pressler), it’s effective at laying out how, past a certain level of wealth and power, everything is kind of a scam. For people as rich as Anna pretended to be, who you know or what you can promise matters far more than what the rules are supposed to be. Anna may be singular in her success, but she’s a grifter among grifters; over the course of the series, she rubs elbows with other notable fraudsters like Martin Shkreli and Billy McFarland, and Donald Trump speeches play on screens in the background.
What Inventing Anna makes of this truth, I wouldn’t dare say. Though the series is hardly impartial, part of the fun is watching as characters like Vivian and Anna’s lawyer Todd (Arian Moayed) grasp for some cohesive idea of who Anna really is, why she is the way she is, what they think of her and why. That they never quite find one can be a little bit frustrating, but it also feels true to her appeal. Anna shows no interest in being so easily defined. Why should her story?
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
More from The Hollywood Reporter
Sydney Sweeney Says Two Family Members Turned Off ‘Euphoria’ and “Walked Out” of the Room
‘Dave’ Breakout Tenea Intriago on Playing a Stalker Opposite Brad Pitt and Finding Humanity in Villains
‘Dear Mama’ Director Allen Hughes on Tupac Shakur’s Legacy: “He Lived More in a Day Than Most in a Year”