Inventing Anna, loosely based on the true story of Anna Delvey, is a Netflix series created and written by big names like Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers. Unfortunately, it manages to make an intriguing mastermind con-artist bland and facile, despite trying hard to do the opposite.
New York journalist Vivian Kent (Anna Chlumsky) desperately tries to revamp her reputation as an unethical journalist. She hopes to catch a big breakthrough writing a story on Anna Delvey (Julia Garner), who managed to con New York’s elite into funding her art foundation and lavish lifestyle of fancy trips and Fashion Weeks.
The acting in the first four episodes felt plasticky and kitschy. Characters recite lines of exposition, occasionally name-dropping ‘Dior’ and ‘Balenciaga’ with a bored, laissez-faire voice. Garner’s Anna tries hard to be larger-than-life, and Chlumsky’s Vivian fails to seem intimidated or impressed by Anna. In one scene, Anna breaks down because she can’t pay her hotel bills. So, she becomes placid suddenly, stuttering in an awkward, unrealistic way, like a musician trying to get the notes right and consequently failing to capture the moment’s emotion.
Garner’s Anna is a fun girl bossing, gatekeeping archetype. But she falls flat on the gaslighting department, the girl boss’s most entertaining, most essential aspect. Anna has the cattiness of Mean Girls’ Regina George and the no-nonsense nonchalance approach of Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada. The series even suggests that she’s a Hannibal Lecter—and try hard to push that idea—with the preview of Anna judging Vivian’s outfit with laser-like, invasive focus, wrapping it up with ‘why do you dress like that?’, ‘You look poor’.
Unfortunately, Garner’s Regina-Miranda-Hannibal hybrid only goes so far. At some point, the message that she’s a high-functioning sociopathic narcissist (or is she?) gets boring because Netflix’s Anna fails to gaslight and con convincingly. Imagine watching Money Heist, but the ‘heist’ strategy is not persuasive at all—that’s Anna’s con. She describes her lounge as ‘exclusive’, ‘luxurious’, ‘private’, etc. and investors get floored. She throws a tantrum and then suddenly turns ‘vulnerable’ and ‘fragile’—the characters’ words, not mine—and now, her lawyer, Vivian, and the friends she conned money from all feel sympathetic and responsible for her. How does anyone get conned when her method, which is essentially well-timed guilt-tripping and astute appeals to emotions, becomes so transparent? In other words, the writing makes Anna a Mary Sue. This becomes especially predictable towards the end.
The last few episodes improve mildly as Anna’s outbursts become a bit more immersive, although by this point it’s difficult to care. The biggest kudos go to Alexis Floyd, Laverne Cox, and Katie Lowes, who played Anna’s friends Neff, Kacy, and Rachel respectively. The writing here significantly improves to show both the support and fissures in their friendship as they piece together who Anna is and decide where to stand in their relationship with her.
However, the show is about Anna, and Anna is uninteresting. She channels too many beloved contemporary sociopaths and ends up unauthentic. The writing doesn’t help since it, on the one hand, removes the enigma of Anna Delvey, and on the other, makes the character a predictable Mary Sue.
Overall, it’s an excellent movie to hate-watch during lunch breaks, much like Emily in Paris.
Image courtesy of Harald Krichel via Wikicommons