Inventing Anna review: Netflix’s meandering true-crime drama is a shallow adaptation of Anna Delvey’s story

Netflix’s Inventing Anna tells the story of Anna Sorokin (Julia Garner) with none of the wit or flair you’d hope for

Julia Garner as Anna Delvey in Inventing Anna (Credit: Nicole Rivelli/Netflix)

Like a lot of recent true-crime biopics, Inventing Anna is based on a magazine feature: in this case, a 2018 piece published in New York Magazine, called “Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It”. Unlike a lot of recent true-crime biopics, Inventing Anna doesn’t just adapt the story of the crime, but also the writing of the article itself. (By way of comparison: Pam & Tommy was based on a 2014 Rolling Stone article, but while it foregrounds Rand Gauthier’s perspective it doesn’t open with an older Gauthier sitting down for an interview with a journalist, or indeed follow the journalist as they draft and redraft the story.)

There are two strands to Inventing Anna’s narrative: flashbacks to con artist Anna Sorokin moving through and stealing from the New York socialite world, and a frame story centred on journalist Vivian Kent, piecing together Sorokin’s story while interviewing her during prison visits. (Kent is a lightly-fictionalised version of real journalist Jessica Pressler, retaining details of her personal life and career; Pressler, who once cameod on Gossip Girl after writing about the series, is a producer on Inventing Anna.)

One is interspersed with the other, but it’s hard not to feel like the balance is a little off. Part of that is just a question of too-far-delayed gratification, which is itself compounded by the glacial pace of the series; the first episode could very easily have shaved a full twenty minutes off the beginning of its hour plus runtime, which opens with a lengthy but essentially superfluous account of how Kent initially came across Sorokin’s story. 7 of Inventing Anna’s 9 episodes are longer than an hour, at times substantially so, with the remaining two clocking in at 59 minutes each; it’s not that this is bad in and of itself, but Inventing Anna never really earns its runtime, lacking the dynamism and energy required to make the episodes fly by.

More to the point, though, Inventing Anna struggles to convince that Kent’s story was particularly worth including (or if it would’ve been at all, had Pressler not been a producer and seemingly had a view towards settling old scores). Ostensibly it’s about constructing Anna Sorokin’s legend, another piece of the invention – but while that makes a certain thematic sense, the Manhattan Magazine office politics and account of Kent’s pregnancy would prove hackneyed and dull even if audiences weren’t primarily drawn to this for Sorokin’s story alone. Anna Chlumsky holds it together as best she can, but the material just isn’t up to scratch.

Julia Garner as Anna Delvey and Anna Chlumsky as Vivian Kent on opposite sides of a prison meeting room in Inventing Anna (Credit: Nicole Rivelli/Netflix)

Worse, though, Inventing Anna never quite manages to get to grips with the con artist at its core. Part of that is just the way it holds her at arm’s length: for all that the series wants to filter Sorokin through a kaleidoscope of different opinions and perspectives, the result is that she just feels distant. The series lacks the delicacy to let contrasting and contradictory identities sit alongside one another, or the insight to pull one out and let it stand above the noise. Equally, it also doesn’t seem to have much understanding of what it means for someone to assume different personas - in one laughable early scene, Inventing Anna tries to suggest “she posted on Instagram about dying her hair a few times” is grounds for intense suspicion and journalistic investigation.

Part of it also is Julia Garner’s performance. The Ozark star disappears into the part well-enough; the physical transformation is impressive, and Garner looks a lot like Sorokin here, decked out in expensive clothes and Sorokin’s signature Céline glasses. More immediately noticeable though is Garner’s voice – probably the politest way of putting it is just to say that the actor really commits to the German-by-way-of-Russian drawl that Sorokin is known for, and you do eventually get used to the cartoonish affect. (It’s not bad, exactly, but it’s big and broad in a way that doesn’t quite suit the show – though equally, Inventing Anna would be better off if the rest of the series changed to suit the voice rather than vice versa.) The bigger problem though is that Garner never quite manages to convince that Sorokin was particularly magnetic, or that people would be so drawn to her that they’d go out on a limb to help her.

Both of which speak to the wider problem, though, which is that Inventing Anna doesn’t seem to realise how much fun this fake heiress drama should be. There’s something oddly self-important about the show, as though it’s convinced of its own worthiness – Inventing Anna often seems to think it’s supposed to drive at these big points about financial culture and social media and corporate feminism, and in amongst that forgets to take any joy in Sorokin’s scam. If you look at the real Sorokin’s social media, she is, if nothing else, someone who should be a huge amount of fun to watch on television.

There’s a version of Inventing Anna that could posit Sorokin as something closer to a folk hero: someone who lived a life of luxury without spending a penny, cheating the rich and scamming socialites through sheer confidence and force of will alone. (In the end, Sorokin went to jail, and was ordered to pay a little over $100 000 in restitution to the people she scammed; she did so with a fraction of the $320 000 Netflix paid her as part of this adaptation.) Inventing Anna puts her closer to something like a girlboss Hannibal Lecter, and ultimately the series proves dry and slow - with none of the excess or sense of humour you’d hope for in a story this outlandish.

Inventing Anna will be available to stream on Netflix from Friday 11 February 2022. I’ve seen 6 of a total of 9 episodes before writing this review.

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