Arts and Entertainment

Can You Fake It Til’ You Make it?

Netflix’s newest based-on-a true story series, “Inventing Anna” (2022), gives audiences a glimpse into the life of con-woman Anna Sorokin and the lengths of her deception that fooled New York’s elite.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Emily Young-Squire

A woman walks into the 11 Howard Hotel wearing the latest designer clothing. She frequents all of the hottest and most expensive hotels in Manhattan, jumping from room to room and strolling around like she owns the place. She’s brunette and blue-eyed, with an unplaceable yet unforgettable accent. People watch as she converses with staff and passes $100 bills into their palms as tips. “She’s a respected foreigner and socialite who still pays mind to the locals,” they whisper amongst themselves. Rumors fly that “she’s from old money, her trust-fund is about to kick in, and she is on the brink of establishing one of the finest art clubs that the world has ever seen.” And then, her cards get declined.

That’s Anna Delvey for you. Or should I say, Anna Sorokin? Under the alias “Anna Delvey,” Sorokin was able to weasel her way into the upper echelons of high New York City society, masquerading as the daughter of a rich German businessman. She convinced everybody with her stories while dropping thousands of dollars on designer clothes, lavish trips with her friends, and expensive hotel rooms where she basically lived. She believed that she could lie her way into riches and luxury. It’s surreal that wealthy people, big banks, and large businesses fell victim to her scams.

Netflix released a nine episode fictionalized adaptation of Anna’s life in crime on February 11, 2022, inspired by journalist Jessica Pressler’s reporting on the case. The show starts off with the premise that “this whole story is true. Except for the parts that are totally made up.” The show follows journalist Vivian Kent (Anna Chlumsky), who is loosely based on Pressler and absolutely infatuated with Anna’s case. She is determined to redeem herself after a mistake she made in one of her previous articles. Despite her boss’s disapproval, she interviews Anna (Julia Garner) and her acquaintances to learn more about the supposed German heiress and her connection to New York’s elite. In each episode, Vivian meets someone who has fallen victim to Anna’s deception and uncovers new truths about Anna’s identity.

It is the relationships between characters that progress the story onward. Each episode presents the audience with outrageous encounters that people had with Anna. The audience watches as some fall head over heels for her charm and as others become suspicious of her identity and dubious actions. There is a focus on her closest group of friends, which consists of Neffatari Davis (Alexis Floyd), Kacy Duke (Laverne Cox), and Rachel Williams (Katie Lowes). Neff has an undying loyalty toward Sorokin and encourages others to support her through the court process. Neff even goes out of her way to find Anna a stylist for her court appearances and attends every trial in hopes that the person she considers a friend, no matter her actual identity, will be freed. In contrast to Neff, Rachel develops a disdain towards Anna after an ill-fated vacation to Morocco jeopardizes her job and well-being when Anna fails to pay. This event is the beginning of Anna’s downfall. It even leads Rachel to aid in the police operation to arrest Anna.

The acting performances are the highlight of the show. Garner immediately grabs your attention with her perfect recreation of Sorokin’s bizarre accent. She encapsulates the pure essence of Sorokin’s arrogant character through her precise facial expressions. She is also able to depict spurts of anger and manipulation, followed by instances of passiveness. She’s abrasive and exudes confidence in the way she talks and walks, but she shows Anna’s hidden vulnerability with her body language. Garner’s portrayal of self-assurance built on delusion and pettiness makes the audience pity her, yet her portrayal of Anna’s ambitious nature also makes them root for her. Her juxtaposition with Arian Moayed, who plays her sincere, caring lawyer Todd Spodeck, and Laverne Cox’s radiant portrayal of Kacy creates an entertaining balance that the viewers seek throughout the show.

In contrast to Garner’s spectacular performance, Chlumsky’s character presents one of the biggest flaws of the show. Vivian’s backstory is one of the multiple unnecessary subplots sprinkled throughout the show. Though Anna’s life is shown at a reasonable pace, the show’s momentum becomes inconsistent when the hour-long episodes drag on with long segments showcasing Vivian’s life. It does not help that Chlumsky’s odd gestures and line executions are sloppy and disingenuous, especially when we are supposed to empathize with Vivian. Her character simply falls flat. Anna is the center of attention, and viewers want to know more about her, not the uninteresting woman interviewing her.

Fashion also plays an integral part in Anna’s story. She is known for her amazing taste in art and her aptitude for fashion, which started from a young age. Anna is even known for the stylish outfits that she would wear to court, which means that expectations for the costume design were set high. Anna is constantly seen wearing the best designer clothes with neatly styled hair, fitting for any occasion. Her wardrobe is sophisticated but never dull. She wears her fair share of patterns, shiny jewels, and glitter, but her outfits are never overbearing. Her clothes are a representation of her desire for greatness but need for safety.

Despite its flaws, “Inventing Anna” is enticing due to the shocking true story behind it. The series offers interesting commentary on modern-day capitalism, while simultaneously keeping viewers engaged with a mysterious yet outrageous and cartoon-like character. The performances by its actors make the show worthwhile and addictively watchable, leaving us wondering about the people who inspired these characters and how Anna’s actions continue to affect them today.