Review: ‘Inventing Anna’ or Girlbossing too close to the sun

Obsessed with visual banalities and limited by a confusing script, Netflix’s new show fails to bring the dazzling story of the ‘fake heiress’ Anna Delvey to life.  

Julia Garner as Anna Delvey in “Inventing Anna” (2022). Photo credit: Aaron Epstein/ Netflix/ THA/Alamy

You don’t have to idolise Anna Delvey to recognise her fraudulent behaviour as a monumental feat. Delvey, the fake heiress, convinced bankers, businessmen and New York’s social elite, that she was good for $60 million. Her story rivals that of the Wolf of Wall Street, as while Jordan Belfort worked the banks from the inside, this young outsider fooled the biggest players and the most prestigious banks all on her own. It is undeniably one of the greatest stories to emerge from 21st Century capitalism, and yet despite Shonda Rhimes’ delivering 9+ hours of Inventing Anna, I felt short-changed.

By framing the narrative through the ambitious reporter Vivian Kent (Anna Chlumsky) – based on Jessica Pressler the journalist responsible for the Anna Delvey expose – Inventing Anna attempts a feminist angle. Vivian is determined to prove her journalistic integrity and save her career, before her life as a mother starts. While the show should be a parable, warning of the Girlboss feminism that Anna succumbed to, it becomes a herald for it. That ‘we all have the same 24 hours in a day’ mentality, that privileged white women claim which ignores the fact that the starting place is different for the Molly Mae’s of the world than it is for any person who wasn’t born with money. 

Vivian Kent’s determination to continue with the expose, despite crippling pregnancy pains, is supposed to show her unfettered ambition. But it just comes across as pathetic. It’s indicative of the capitalist mentality that one should continue to be productive, no matter at what cost to your body or mind. Nora Radford (Kate Burton) – who represents the business elite, and the epitome of the ‘girlboss’ – snarls at Anna because ‘she didn’t get up before noon’. Indicating that it was her laziness that would prevent her from her goals, while Nora and the other old-money business women guard the gates to a well of financial resources, investors and contacts. 

From what we see of Anna (Julia Garner), her constant sniping at both her lawyer Todd Spacek (Arian Moayed) and Vivian Kent, they have no reason to be as emotionally attached to her as they are. Todd almost destroys his marriage in order to support Anna and Vivian ignores her new-born while insincerely claiming to be heartbroken about their separation. Todd argues that the world will refuse to sentence Anna, claiming they will see her as ‘a modern-day Robin Hood’ but his argument is a flawed misconception. She is not an anti-capitalist crusader, planning to give the millions from her loan back to the 99%, she wanted to be part of the elite of the world 1%, and she was very close to getting there. 

We are supposed to believe Anna still has an intoxicating hold over those she interacts with even stripped of the designer goods. But all we see is her cruel remarks and epic tantrums, showing that Todd and Vivien’s commitment to the case is purely to further their own careers. Making all their progressive idealist statements, such as Todd’s claim to be helping an immigrant kid seem as conceited as Delvey. These scatterings of progressive sentiments felt as if Shonda Rhimes, was throwing every buzzword she could at the wall to see what sticks.

Vivian keeps pushing her supposedly feminist agenda. From the series’ outset, she refuses to do a Wall Street me-too piece, because she doesn’t want to bully traumatised women into outing themselves and putting their jobs at risk. However, she convinces Anna to reject the plea deal offered and go to trial in order to get more interview time and to heighten the case and article’s profile. Her strongest argument for not wanting to write a me-too piece is that the story is done, not the heartfelt plea she attempts to protect survivors’ privacy. In the season final, Vivian feigns heartbreak at the news of Anna’s long sentence and then breaks down in tears, when she is offered a feature and her own office. Vivian isn’t conveying sincere emotion over Anna’s fate, rather she is crashing from a career-high, realising that she is expected to continue to work stories at a high level, that her redemptive triumph is not a one and done moment. 

Very few characters in Inventing Anna are much more than insipid and self-obsessed hypocrites or as determined as Anna to carve out their own narratives. Maybe this is meant to exemplify the infectious individualism of consumerist America but it doesn’t pull it off. I found myself constantly irritated by confusing one-dimensional characters, whose every action came out of left field. One moment the trainer friend Kacy (Laverne Cox) is coaching Rachel (Katie Lowes) – who was manipulated into fronting $60,000 for Anna on a holiday in Morocco – to ‘stand in her power’, encouraging her to tell her own story. But by the show’s end, she is fuming that Rachel has controlled her own narrative, reaped the benefit from her trauma, coming out of the experience with a Vanity Fair piece, TV and book deal. Inventing Anna has many flip-flopping storylines like this, circling the main narrative and ends up just as convoluted and unengaging as Scandal by its 7th season.

As a whole the series is constantly zigzagging between one theory or another, making the audience dizzy. Vivian goes from labelling Anna ‘queen of the millennials’ and a business genius, to chasing her family down to understand how this ‘monster’ came to be. Todd switches from shouting at Anna for being a deluded idiot, to claiming she is a naïve girl who needs his support. It feels as if the Shondaland productions, instead of picking an angle decided that by chucking them all in they might create a nuanced show of many varying perspectives. However, all that we are left with is a melting pot of idealism and ego which focuses more on the squabbling surrounding players than the titular character. 

Vivian after publishing her well-received expose is complains to her diligent partner that everyone missed the real story. Spewing the most obtuse line in the series: ‘it’s something about class, social mobility, identity under capitalism, I don’t know.’ Is this a last-ditch attempt from the show’s writers to needle in a point, as they see that their production has also failed to grasp the Anna Delvey story?

The most intriguing element of Anna Delvey’s antics was the many capitalist power players that bought into her potential, but this gets little limelight. Inventing Anna has somehow been swamped with hours of screen time devoted to the gaggle of writers serving average takes, and showing their disconnect from the internet society they’re supposed to be commenting on. 

The Anna Delvey story is not a tragic immigrant’s tale, nor is it a story of the pursuit of the American dream. It serves as a demonstration of capitalism’s grave foundations, its constant need for expansion which drives people to keep pursuing wealth. Encouraging greed and the pursuit of profit, even if it’s only wealth in its potential form, in order to continue growing. Anna saw people curating their own image, creating their own wealth from the investment of others, using their social status to gain access to another world, and she saw no reason why that couldn’t be her too. If she had succeeded in getting the loan, the building and the Anna Delvey Foundation, would she today be seen as a scam artist? She could have ended up just like Jordan Belfort, who today promotes himself as an investment guru and entrepreneur. Anna may have become another one of the corrupted elites, praised for her intuition and platformed as a business mogul. But while Anna pathed her way so close to the top, Inventing Anna doesn’t even come close to capturing her scandalous life. Losing a central critique of identity under capitalism, it appears Shonda may have been girl-bossed too close to the sun. 

Billie Walker (@billierwalker) is a lover of horror and hater of late stage capitalism. Her pieces lamenting work can be found in Screenshot Media, Aurelia Magazine and Novara. The only escapism her dark mind finds from the horrors of society come in the form of cheese, shark videos and psychological thrillers. Although she often questions how her fascination with crime dramas can co-exist with her police abolitionist values, she has explored these conflicts in her writing for Observer and Brixton Review of Books.

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