Inventing Anna, a Netflix mini-series about the rise and fall of a fake socialite from creator Shonda Rhimes, is fascinating and compelling television. I took it as a parable about the rot at the heart of the American psyche. It’s a classic tale of good and evil, truth and lies, reality and illusion.
Inventing Anna stars Julia Garner as Anna Delvey. She arrives in New York City in her early 20s and creates a woman, a rich heiress, who moves in society and the art world. She lives extravagantly on other people’s money while convincing them she’s rich. She’s narcissistic, a user of people, a liar, and a cheat.
And people love her. LOVE her. They are loyal to her even when they know her lies, even when they are used by her. People regard her as a hustler, a bold genius with a gift for grabbing glitter and fame. She is the quintessential New Yorker – out to make it any way she can.
Inventing Anna is a parable about the rot at the heart of the American psyche.
Vivian (Anna Chlumsky), the reporter who investigates the Anna story, is the framework around which the tale unfolds. Vivian is based on New York Magazine reporter Jessica Pressler, who wrote the original articles about Anna and helped write the TV series. Vivian’s investigations, conversations, and interviews lead us through the many characters who played a part in Anna’s rise and fall.
Anna had three friends who claimed to love her. They were loyal to a fault. They were her trainer Kacy (Laverne Cox), Rachel (Katie Lowes) who worked at Vanity Fair, and Neff (Alexis Floyd), a concierge at one of the luxury hotels Anna bilked out of thousands of dollars. Anna included them in her largesse, made them feel special, put them on Instagram in her selfies. Vivian interviewed each of them several times. Rachel wrote her own book about Anna.
Early in the story Anna lived with another hustler, Chase (Saamer Usmani). He was looking for investors in an app. He helped her meet the rich people she wanted to use herself. She had the idea that she was going to build a social club, named after herself, that would be home to only the rich and famous. Anna and Chase lived for months off a rich woman (Kate Burton) who gave them a place to stay, bought them everything, and introduced them to people in power.
To build her dreams, Anna needed bank loans. There were many banks involved in her scheme. Anthony Edwards played a part representing all the bankers she fooled with her stories about trust funds and a rich father.
When Anna finally got in enough trouble to be arrested she hired Todd (Arian Moayed) to represent her. She never paid him anything. Nevertheless he fell under her spell like everyone else and painted her as a heroic hustler to the jury at her trial on several counts of fraud.
I must mention the crew of journalists who helped Vivian investigate Anna’s story and put together an article about her. They shared a corner of cubicles in a spot where old or disgraced journalists were sent to slowly expire. They were Maud (Anna Deavere Smith), Lou (Jeff Perry), and Barry (Terry Kinney). Yes, #EldersRock.
Vivian was obsessed with using this story to redeem herself from a past scandal about her journalistic integrity that had landed her in the corner with these veteran writers. Vivian was also pregnant and writing right up to the minute her water broke.
Vivian became obsessed with Anna’s bold successes as a liar. This woman, this narcissist who clung to her own lies and used people, had an almost magical hold over people. She was famous. She claimed to be rich. That was all it took for people to want to be in her shadow. Her unpleasant personality, her wacko accent, her constant lies – none of it made a difference. She inspired a loyal following who wanted to be famous and rich – wanted to be like her.
When Anna was in jail, people still loved her, supported her. They loved the curated life she lived on Instagram and refused to believe she was fooling them. Friends, lawyers, reporters – no one could resist her demands, her tantrums, her lies.
It’s no coincidence that playing out in the background news about the rest of the world outside Anna was the glorification and election of Trump. Anna was clickbait, just like he was, and her story was everywhere.
The false gods of capitalism, of social media fame and influence, are the real story in Inventing Anna. We judge people by the designer clothes and shoes they wear, by who they stand beside in photos on social media. The content of a person’s character isn’t a consideration. Will any others see this story that way, or is it just me?