Netflix’s Inventing Anna Is A Girlboss Scam Tale – In A Post-Girlboss World

Photo Courtesy of Netflix.
What do you get if you cross a viral New York magazine article, the production powerhouse of Shonda Rhimes and Netflix (see record-smashing Bridgerton), Ozark breakout star Julia Garner and a character study of how one of the world’s foremost female fraudsters swindled New York’s elite out of hundreds of thousands of dollars? You’d expect something akin to screen magic: meaty and fascinating. The actual result is a gaudy bauble, packed with Gossip Girl-style dramatics and glossy shots of the New York skyline but empty on the inside. Could it be, the fake heiress drama is already in its flop era?
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It’s a compelling story, coming to our screens at exactly the right time. Our obsession with the scammer subgenre of true crime is hitting its peak right now, with the likes of Netflix documentary The Tinder Swindler trending on social media and not one but two big Hollywood projects about Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes due this year. 
At the centre of this one is the shocking true story of faux socialite Anna Delvey, who convinced New York high society that she was a millionaire German heiress when in actual fact she was Russian-born con artist Anna Sorokin. She managed to scam wealthy art dealers, Vanity Fair photo editors, private jet companies and luxury Manhattan hotels, and nearly persuaded a hedge fund to give her $25 million to open a club worth double the amount. 
Photo Courtesy of Netflix.
She was finally arrested in 2017 and the buzzy, nine-episode Netflix limited series follows the efforts of journalist Jessica Pressler, for her 2018 New York magazine article "How Anna Delvey Tricked New York's Party People", to understand not just how but why Delvey did what she did. In the show, journalist Vivian Kent (a fictionalised version of Pressler) repeatedly tries to suss out the inner workings of a person capable of masterminding such a ruse, chasing down the people she duped at the same time as trying to save her own flailing career. 
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Now, you’ve got to give props to any series that starts with Megan Thee Stallion’s "Rich" playing over the magazine article going to print. However the first episode gives an indication of the bombastic retelling that we’re going to be privy to. The viewer is immediately assailed with a barrage of tweets, setting the scene of the girlboss cultural climate in which Delvey managed to become an accidental celebrity: "Icon", "Shero", "Only thing wrong with my queen Anna Delvey is that she was scamming women. We scam men in this house", "Dibs on being Anna Delvey for Halloween". Over it, Garner (who plays Delvey) delivers a voiceover – with an intense, mock-European accent which oscillates between German and Russian – telling viewers that "the story you’re about to sit on your fat ass and watch like a big lump of nothing is about me". We’re given the inner workings of Delvey as egotistical, arrogant and duplicitous. And throughout we see this dark interiority contrasted with public perceptions of her as "Robin Hood, she’s a folk hero", stealing from the rich and giving to, well, herself. 
Photo Courtesy of Netflix.
We rewind and land at the point of the very early inception of the article, which sees Kent in her media organisation’s offices (New York magazine has been traded in rather glibly for Manhattan magazine), enthusiastically pitching the idea to her boss. Here, the series hams up its wishy-washy feminist standpoint as Kent shuns a Wall Street #MeToo piece in favour of her Anna Delvey passion project. She argues: "You want to launch a woman journalist grenade at them … bully them into telling their stories to the public until these women are traumatised and their careers are pulverised. I’m not against the women, I’m against you using them for clickbait." Later, we see her tell colleagues that in actual fact it’s because the #MeToo piece isn’t front-page material and "this one is". Then, when Kent goes to an ultrasound (Pressler was pregnant at the time of the investigation) and finds out she's having a girl, she lets out a dramatic scream. There is no subtlety here. The viewer is supposed to understand her frustration at a misogynistic world pitted against the success of women. We are invited to fill in the blanks: be crushed by the system or go against it (as Delvey does).
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The show certainly isn’t empathetic to Delvey’s victims, who we see calling each other in expensive yoga gear or plotting in rooftop bars, martinis in hand. Portrayed as shrill and almost deserving of the white collar felonies, it really homes in on the fact that there was mainly such a hurrah because of the public humiliation of being so readily deceived. After all, who dares embarrass the New York glitterati?
Photo Courtesy of Netflix.
When Kent and Delvey finally meet face to face, Delvey heavy-handedly plays the sympathy card, ramping up the girlboss mentality to appeal to Pressler’s own. It's as if, strangely, we’re supposed to see parallels between the two women: "They’re trying to paint a picture of me as a dumb, shallow, superficial person who’s just after money. I want you to know that’s not me at all. I’m not some party girl. I’m trying to build a business."
It’s monotonous, and shoved rather repetitively down our throats. The first episode ends with one of Delvey’s friends (conveniently, a hotel worker who managed to hook her up with one of her luxury stays) vouching for her and declaring herself sympathetic to her so-called hustle: "This is New York. Everyone here is running a game. Everyone here needs to score. Everyone here is hustling. Money. Power. Image. Love." 
Inventing Anna never really gets down to the nitty-gritty of who Delvey was and how she managed to fool so many people. Instead it fills in the gaps in an unsatisfying way – sometimes holding her at arm's length and portraying her as mocking and manipulative, at other times almost positioning her as an aspirational career figure. It doesn’t quite know the stance it wants to take, which is odd, especially as Delvey has now been convicted of multiple counts of grand larceny. It is watchable but in a way where you have to avert your eyes every 15 minutes to avoid your brain turning to mush. With the combination of Garner’s bizarre accent and some overacting from Anna Chlumsky it feels like a lacklustre non-starter which uses the girlboss agenda – in a post-girlboss world – to rile our spirits. 
Inventing Anna is available to stream on Netflix from 11th February

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