#FIRSTLOOK: “INVENTING ANNA”
By Mr. Will Wong
Shonda Rhimes has done it again! The commotion leading-up to the release of Mini-Series INVENTING ANNA has been about as manic as the lifestyle which its fallen heroine lived. And if fame is what twice-jailed ‘faux heiress’ Anna Delvey wanted, the acclaim to follow this outstanding portrait just might have been worth all the trouble she got herself into. Right?
This nine-episode Series is based on the Jessica Presler‘s New York Magazine article, “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People“. We learn about Delvey‘s (Julia Garner) rise to notoriety, defrauding banks, hotels and friends, convincing them she was a wealthy German heiress. She even technically stole a private plane. We see Delvey in her ambitious attempt to launch a social art club (think kinda like Soho House) for the rich, the “Anna Delvey Foundation“.
The story works its way backwards and then forward as we see the beginnings of a swindler at work. She falls in love with jet-setting entrepreneur Chase (Saamer Usmani) who is smitten by her genius and with him and her stylist friend Val (James Cusati-Moyer), she finds herself in exactly the right social circles to build-up her new identity. With a taste for expensive things and an air of snobbery, she created an air-tight perception that she came from money and that there was no reason to dare question that. Racking-up debts for some of her generous friends, and at some of New York’s finest hotels (without even presenting a credit card at check-in), she is a master of illusion, throwing $100 tips at staff to distract them from the truth. She has no money. We see her convince bankers that she will be able to re-pay the loans (with the help of her father) needed to build her $40 million private club dream. And then her world begins to crumble as those closest to her become divided by her actions as the truth unfolds and the questions pile-up about who Delvey really is.
The story is told from the perspective of reporter Vivian (a fictitious version of Presler, who shares a Producer credit here, played Anna Chlumsky). While we uncover who Anna Delvey is through her, we also are brought inside the expectant mother’s complicated world as well. Vivian is tasked with getting Anna to trust her with her story, in order to find her truth, and this is by no means an easy task. Anna is cold and mean, but always dangles just enough of a carrot to keep Vivian coming back. The relationship is mutually beneficial. Anna is looking for fame and for the whole world to know her story. Vivian is looking to overcome some doubts cast over her journalistic integrity and this is the story that could do it. She doesn’t know why, but she cares about Anna and this becomes more than just about being a job for her.
David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) helms INVENTING ANNA and if you are among the many who loved Prada, this Mini-Series delivers much of that cruel, toxic dynamic but in an even more generous, heaping portion. This isn’t just about Anna Delvey though, it is an exploration of what her rise and fall meant to those most closely-attached to the story. Being stuck with a $50k debut on her company credit card after an ill-fated trip to Morocco is a trauma that came to define Anna‘s friend Rachel (Katie Lowes), while also becoming a business for her. Defence Attorney Todd (Arian Moayed) takes a big risk taking on this case which could’ve been career suicide, but we witness the personal sacrifices he makes in taking this case on. Neff (Alexis Floyd) is one of the hotel staff who benefitted from Anna‘s generosity, but is taken on a wild ride after they become good friends.
This Ensemble Cast is the stuff Awards Season is made of. Garner is undeniable in this portrayal of Delvey, crafting that perfect accent that while ‘aristocratic’ is too German to be American and vice-versa. And we hear Anna‘s unavoidable Russian slip-out. It is everything. We take delight in her excitement as she circles closer and closer to that loan which could seal her fate forever, but we also are very aware it could all come crumbling down in a second once she is discovered. And that also could seal her fate forever. Occasionally, we get glimpses into Delvey‘s delicate side too and Garner is just as compelling at her loudest, screaming at her lawyer, and also at her quietest when she realizes how alone she is. She is one-part crafty and polished Fraudster, but also incredibly childlike in her tantrums. If you know Garner’s work as Ruth Langmore in Ozark, this casting makes perfect sense. Though our central subject does some deplorable things, Garner sells us on Anna‘s unapologetic essence and we were mesmerized.
Chlumsky delivers some phenomenal work as well as Vivian, drawn into Anna‘s world, relentless in her search for what made Anna who she is. She harbours a heaviness to her and it all makes sense the more we learn about her journey and her pain as well. Moayed gets the difficult task of delivering before a jury why Anna is innocent, but also has to put-up with her impossible list of demands and it is so incredibly satisfying when he finally gets to give her a piece of his mind. He excels, especially late in the Series. We aren’t too familiar with Floyd’s work, but she’s definitely on our radar now with her performance as Neff, the best friend we all need in our corner. Lowes captures perfectly the complexities of having been taken advantage of by Anna, but also the aftermath of attention and profit of telling her side of a story which the world has been invested in.
INVENTING ANNA is riveting Television and has been well worth the wait. Anna Delvey won. It streams beginning February 11, 2022 on Netflix.