‘Inventing Anna’ review: one-woman con goes on (and on)

They say brevity is the soul of wit – and Netflix's trashy drama hasn't much of either

In 2018, the story of Anna Delvey and her bare-faced fraud made for scintillating journalism. Delvey was a fraudster who illegally attempted to take millions from investors. Unfortunately, as the Netflix drama Inventing Anna proves, the same story makes for maddeningly dull fiction.

Over nine long episodes, we see the Delvey (Julia Garner) scandal principally from the perspective of Vivian Kent (Anna Chlumsky), the pseudonym for New York magazine’s Jessica Pressler, who was responsible for pursuing the investigation.

This perspective is far less satisfying than the programme makers seem to believe. Speaking as a journalist, I can honestly say that there are fewer jobs that are less interesting to watch. Being dragged around New York as Kent fails again and again to make any progress is an experience so painfully boring that by the time we actually get anywhere, your hair has started to turn grey.

Inventing Anna
‘Inventing Anna’ tells the story of a ‘fake’ German heiress who stole millions from rich New Yorkers. CREDT: Netflix


At various points the writers make ill-advised decisions about how journalism works. Kent sticks photos and Post-its up on the wall of her unborn daughter’s nursery, like a homicide investigator losing their mind. She is cheered on by three fellow journalists, none of whom ever seem to have any work on; and, to manufacture conflict where this is little, Kent’s editors have to be staggeringly obtuse about the potential of her piece. The same mistakes about the fashion industry crop up, with anyone interested in style being depicted as actually offended by bad shoes. That isn’t how people work.

With an extravagant, deceitful life like Delvey’s and solid personnel in front of and behind the camera, why doesn’t Inventing Anna stick the landing? One reason should have been obvious to everyone involved: it is inexplicably long. The show seems to think that it’s The Talented Mr Ripley, another tale of a persuasive person who charmed and deceived his way around the globe. Patricia Highsmith’s story made for a wonderful film but even at two hours and 15 minutes it’s relatively bloated. Inventing Anna lasts about nine hours. And, where Tom Ripley was a morbidly fascinating enigma, Delvey – at least in Garner’s portrayal – is a boring, vacuous husk.

The show’s failure to humanise Delvey, to make her seem like anything more than an idiot with a ridiculous accent, is what kills the rest of the drama. It is unbelievable that any of these people would have been captivated by Delvey. When characters describe her as though she is Jesus or bail her out after her credit card is declined, we wonder if we’re looking at the same person. Cult leaders tend to have charisma.

The explanation, it seems, is tied up in the American Dream: Delvey, whoever she really is (she changed her name from the Russian ‘Sorokin’ in an attempt to assimilate in the US), inspires confidence in the people she is defrauding because she is so brazenly trying to make herself filthy rich. “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” the characters say about New York, admiring Delvey for attempting to do so. “You have to fight to get what you want,” Delvey tells us. By the end of the show, Kent is wholeheartedly – and ludicrously – on the con artist’s side, despite her having no redeeming characteristics.

As it is reaching the finishing line, Inventing Anna does improve – but these closing sequences are about Delvey’s trial, and it is hard to make courtroom dramas boring. As Delvey’s defence lawyer Todd Spodek, Arian Moayed puts in a good shift in these final moments but he isn’t given the lines he’s given in Succession, and it shows. In most cases the actors are better than the material. Inventing Anna is a little like its subject: it might fool people who are impressed by its shiny surfaces but under the surface there isn’t much going on.

‘Inventing Anna’ is streaming on Netflix now


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