Anna Delvey took the advice “fake it ‘til you make it” a little too literally. From 2013 to 2017, Delvey (aka Anna Sorokin) managed to con New York’s socialite scene into believing she was a multi-millionaire German heiress by swindling and defrauding banks, hotels, and “friends” with the ambition to build her own private members’ club and art foundation for which she nearly secured? $25 million. Netflix’s Inventing Anna, an adaptation of Jessica Pressler’s viral 2018 New York Magazine article “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People,” plays like an investigative crime drama. From the perspective of a journalist unraveling Anna’s case, Shonda Rhimes’ 9-part limited series inspects how this eponymous anti-hero and pseudo-socialite used social media as her secret weapon to lie her way up the social ranks for money and fame.
After the collage-like title screen gives a glimpse into the luxurious, champagne-sipping lifestyle of this unassuming fraudster, Inventing Anna displays an integrated title card caveat that reads: “this whole story is completely true, except for all the parts that are totally made up.” Such a statement could easily be the tagline for Instagram. It’s not a new observation for the square image app; Instagram has been the focus of conversations surrounding the falsehood of a curated reality for a number of years now. But what Inventing Anna calls into question is how social media can go beyond simply an embellishment, it can be a cataloged portfolio of legitimacy through which public perception can be swindled and cultural relevance can be obtained.
Investigative journalist Vivian (Anna Chlumsky) is introduced wading through Anna’s (Julia Garner) case while pregnant, and redecorating her child’s nursery wall with Anna’s Instagram posts. A sordid timeline that is like a gigantic puzzle of Instagram-sized pieces, Vivian goes about trying to connect the dots between Anna’s social feed posts when she realizes how Instagram is this con artist’s greatest asset. The sheer abundance of information Anna shared in the social media stratosphere (geotags, recorded dates, tagging who she was with, whether she was currently blonde, brunette, or strawberry blonde-it is all there) almost instantly discounts her from suspicion but, ultimately, left the clues for her downfall.
“The more I know, the less I know,” Vivian professes, sifting through Instagram posts like they’re court papers. As Vivian’s investigation delves deeper, Inventing Anna zooms in closer on the relationship between Anna and her social media existence. The show illustrates how Anna’s greatest tactic is to make herself easily consumable through an aesthetic that has mass appeal; from yachts in Ibiza to the front row of New York fashion week. One glance at Anna’s Instagram and you wouldn’t be blamed for believing she was the latest “it” girl or thriving influencer. Charming, smart, and unassuming proves a perfect concoction to winning over people and their wallets.
There is a sidestepping of the traditional dialogue surrounding image manipulation and young women; Anna isn’t editing her physical appearance, but the branding of her reputation. Ultimately, Anna Delvey is an image Sorokin projected out into the world where she utilizes her white femininity in a bid for cultural capital. In tune with the times, Inventing Anna portrays a con that works because of our 21st century internet-ingrained culture; the show tackles the Instagram-legend with seriousness.
Even structurally, Inventing Anna folds itself around Anna’s Instagram. The show is hinged on uncovering the details of Anna’s social posts which, in turn, command the edit, cutting into flashback sequences to trace Anna’s craving for influence. In “Friends in Low Places,” the sixth episode of Inventing Anna, a Marrakesh holiday becomes a microcosm for Anna’s tactical manipulation. This episode begins with Anna and her friends arriving at an extravagant retreat, immediately snapping selfies with her “A.D.” branded phone case and flooding her Instagram page with selfies, spas, and sunny views. It reiterates to her thousands of followers that she is the sort of person who can holiday whenever and wherever she wants. In reality, however, her credit cards are being declined, the police have been called, and she’s left kicking and screaming in the hotel lobby.
Without having to embed this swindling into dialogue, Rhimes’ show makes use of social media as a visual descriptor for the criminal duplicity of this character. Online she can present a pristine image that is meticulously cultivated and can remain untampered by anyone but her; however, during the Marrakesh holiday, her friends begin to see the reality of “Anna Delvey.” Anna’s presence, intricately melded by Garner, is ghostly in Morocco. She plasters on a fleeting smile for an Instagram selfie then her lips are back to resting horizontally, beady eyes flitting towards the next activity to distract from the failing wire transfers. As this chaos unfolds, her Instagram feed presents a lavish holiday of relaxation which couldn’t be further from the truth. At this point, Anna has become like a parasite who moves to a new host, ditching her past skin and friends as she moves up the social order with every new hotel room.
“There’s a little bit of Anna in all of us,” is Anna’s defendant’s (Arian Moayed) opening line for his courtroom declaration. Although a sweeping statement, embellishment for social gain is an ethical debate Inventing Anna internally has with itself; can shameless selfie-taking in fact be a smart business move? Regardless, social platforms allow Anna to reclaim her voice and steer the narrative of her reputation in her own direction. Rhimes’ show follows the continual reinvention of Anna Delvey, circulating the sizable question: Who is the “real” Anna Delvey? And, in fact, does that even matter? Perhaps Anna reinvented the “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality—though her motto was more along the lines of “fake it ‘til you invent it.” The result? Even when the ride ends, image is everything.
Emily Maskell is a freelance film critic, culture and entertainment writer from the UK. You can keep up with her antics on Twitter: @EmMaskell
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