‘Inventing Anna’ Captures The Chaos Of Anna Delvey’s Unbelievable Story
In Shonda Rhimes' capable hands, the infamous story of Delvey is truly stranger than fiction.
“This story is completely true. Except for the parts that are total bullshit.”
That’s the refrain of Netflix’s Inventing Anna, a reminder that everything you’re seeing – well, almost everything. Okay, big chunks of it – really happened.
The series is a dramatisation of the true story of Anna Delvey, a New York City socialite and purported “German heiress” whose name is actually Anna Sorokin and who, in truth, led a modest life in her native Russia before relocating to Germany with her family as a teen.
After swindling everyone from Wall Street bankers to hoteliers and even friends out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, she was exposed by New York Magazine journalist Jessica Pressler in what is touted as one of the magazine’s highest-trafficked articles ever. Sorokin was convicted of several counts of attempted theft and larceny in 2019 and served just over three years in prison before being released on good behaviour early last year.
Inventing Anna is the most-recent Neflix offering from lauded producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes and is inspired by Pressler’s reporting and as such, it’s her story, too.
Rhimes is the creator of TV mega-hits like Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and How To Get Away With Murder. She’s renowned for her ability to bend plots and characters in the most outrageous, unexpected and, at times, frustrating directions without losing her audience’s faith.
So it’s thrilling to see her turn her attention to a true story that already reads like a Shonda Rhimes storyline. The result is a series worthy of that wild imagination.
Real People, Catastrophic Fuck-Ups
Inventing Anna unfolds in a similar format to How To Get Away With Murder, wherein two storylines — one present, where viewers are privy to the fallout of some catastrophic incident, and one past, where the set-up happens — converge. This approach shouldn’t be as satisfying as it is when we already know Sorokin’s story in minute detail, but it works. If anything, the anticipation of seeing how those incredible moments will be brought to life in Shondaland adds to the experience.
Some parts of Pressler’s reporting are represented to the letter, the details unbelievable enough without embellishment. In one such scene, Sorokin (played compellingly by Julia Garner) dishes out hundred-dollar bills while the hotel concierge and her friend, Neff (Alexis Floyd), attempts to serve a long line of increasingly impatient hotel guests. Indeed, Pressler writes, “When Delvey showed up while the concierge desk was busy, she would stand at the counter, coolly counting out bills until she got Neff’s attention. ‘I’d be like, ‘Anna, there’s a line of eight people.’ But she’d keep putting money down.’”
But it’s in the gaps — the parts that are “total bullshit” — that Rhimes’ does her best work. She seamlessly weaves absolute truth with imagined realities. Take, for example, Anna’s long-delayed courtroom appearance. In her mind, as it’s presented to us, there are paparazzi-like flashing cameras, screaming fans, and even a wind machine. In reality, it’s, well, realistic. Stark. Bureaucratic. Kinda underwhelming.
See, despite swathes of information was revealed through Pressler’s reporting and the ensuing court case, we can’t possibly know exactly what friends and colleagues discussed in private or the depth of what anyone was thinking when they chose, against their better judgement, to believe Sorokin’s story. And so complex characters emerge, see-sawing between giving their friend the benefit of the doubt and exploiting her faux generosity for their own gain.
Vivian Kent, the fictional reporter inspired by Pressler and played by Anna Chlumsky, for example, agonises over the story, never fully reconciling the career-redeeming opportunity with the fact that she comes to care about Sorokin. Jessica Deloache Williams (Katie Lowes), a former friend who was duped out of more than $60,000 by Sorokin, parlays the traumatic experience into a best-selling book deal and TV appearances worth roughly five times that.
Rhimes resists the urge to judge her characters for their part in the scandal, instead letting the fictionalised parts of the story serve as an effective reminder that these are real people capable of real, sometimes catastrophic, fuck-ups.
And it’s an important reminder: for the people who were scammed by Sorokin, their dealings with her would likely be some of the most painful, traumatic, and humiliating experiences of their lives, and seeing it fictionalised for headline-grabbing entertainment will surely hurt just as much. It’s worth noting that Netflix reportedly paid Sorokin USD$320,000 for the rights to her story.
Scammed. Hustled. Bamboozled.
Because Rhimes never takes her eyes off the fact that Inventing Anna perpetuates the mythology and notoriety Sorokin so desperately craves, it’s self-referential in the deftest, most-satisfying ways. There’s also BuzzFeed-style video where two hosts “dream cast” the Anna Delvey story.
Likewise, Neff’s boyfriend, Brian (Bryan Terrell Clark) tells her, “You’ve been hustled. Scammed. Bamboozled,” — a reference to Ja Rule’s deeply dad-esque explanation for his involvement with the notorious Fyre Festival. A fictionalised version of the festival’s chaotic co-founder, Billy McFarland (Ben Rappaport), appeared a few episodes prior.
A fictionalised version of the real subject of a Netflix documentary who shows up in a dramatisation of a real story on Netflix…woah.
In the final episode, Vivian’s editors tell her their phones have been ringing off the hook with calls from publishers, advertisers…it’s fun to imagine Netflix among them. And in the trial, Jessica is grilled about the value of the book and TV deals she’s secured as a result of being grifted by Sorokin. Inventing Anna is inspired by Pressler’s reporting, but in another world, Shonda Rhimes might have been adapting Jessica’s story for TV, and it shows.
All told, all the cute pop culture references and stranger-than-fiction plot twists in Inventing Anna serve to highlight that sometimes the best thing art can do is imitate life. And when it does, you want Shonda Rhimes at the helm.
Inventing Anna is currently streaming on Netflix.
Kristen Amiet is a writer and editor who lives and works on Gadigal land. She writes about everything from pop culture to food and personal finance.