“Inventing Anna,” inspired by an article published by journalist Jessica Pressler in a New York magazine, tells the real-life story of the rise and fall of con-artist Anna Sorokin, better known as Anna Delvey (Julia Garner, “Ozark”), who swindled tens of millions from members of New York’s high society to set herself up for a life of extravagance and luxury. While her story garnered intrigue as the viewers wonder how a seemingly normal woman was able to convince the world she was royalty, the nine-episode format is the Achilles’ heel of this show that would have better fit the format of a two-hour movie.
Over the nine episodes, the ins and outs of Anna Delvey’s criminal life slowly came to light as Vivian (Anna Chlumsky, “Veep”), a journalist working at a magazine in New York City, reached out to old friends and associates of Anna’s to piece together the story of how she went from a regular girl to a notorious criminal. Constantly transitioning between moments from Anna’s old life, where she is found going on shopping sprees and traveling the world with her boyfriend to visit her other wealthy friends, and the present-day trial she is facing, the story is put together piece by piece … over nine brutally long, one-hour episodes.
Perhaps some shows can keep up a fast pace over that length of time and have enough of an intricate plot to remain engaging, but it is hard to stay hooked on the slow-paced reveals during each episode of “Inventing Anna.” As a consumer and enjoyer of social documentaries, such as “The Tinder Swindler” or “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal,” it seems like “Inventing Anna” would’ve been better adopted in this format. While it wouldn’t be a documentary per se, because of the creative license used throughout, a two-hour movie would have made the story more digestible than the nine-hour series did. Given how drawn-out each episode felt, there definitely wasn’t a need for all those extra minutes, and a more gripping story could’ve been told by packing the details into just a few hours.
Format aside, the show captures interesting characters and boasts an interesting plot (which would’ve been better served in a more condensed format, but I digress). Vivian, the journalist eager to jump on this story, poses as a good vessel for communicating information. She is interesting enough on her own as she faces the reality of being a pregnant woman, scared she isn’t ready for motherhood and needing to stick up to her boss to get the story she really wants to write. Vivian is also trying to salvage her career after forcibly taking the fall for her boss, who unintentionally damaged her reputation as a credible journalist after publishing a questionable story. Vivian is just an average person who views the world Anna manipulated her way into with the same foreign awe as most people would.
While it isn’t certain just how much of the show is factually grounded in the real story of Anna Delvey (as indicated by the disclaimer shown at the beginning of the series that reads, “This whole story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are totally made up” — helpful, right?), she is an interesting and complex character nonetheless. It is revealed early on that Anna, who is called a “wannabe socialite” after accusations against her come out, is far from that. Rather, she is a cunning and meticulous planner who perfectly orchestrated her way into elite society. Tricking friends and strangers into thinking she is a wealthy German heiress, Anna is able to cheat her way into extraordinary wealth, when in actuality she is neither German nor an heiress, but a financially average woman with neither a college degree nor any business experience.
Learning about Anna’s past and how she was able to come into a world she typically would’ve been excluded from makes for an interesting story, and it certainly is intriguing to see each piece come together leading up to trial. Further, the relationship that Vivian and Anna develop throughout the show blossoms in a way that teeters on the line of acceptable and almost unethical, especially with Vivian bringing Anna more comfortable clothing while in prison and lending Anna a white dress to wear during trial to help her seem more innocent. Nevertheless, their relationship was alluring conceptually. While the dense storyline helps make “Inventing Anna” a more engaging watch, it is hard to get past its slow pace and ignore the feeling that it may have benefited by trimming the excess and getting to the meat of the story.
Daily Arts Writer Jenna Jaehnig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.