We have seen the first four parts of the new nine-part series from creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes which fictionalises the true story of Anna Sorokin, a Russian-born fraudster who scammed New York high society. (See our review of Episodes 5 – 9 here). There is a nice touch in which, at the beginning of each episode, the rubric, “This whole story is completely true, except for all the parts that are totally made up” appears in a different guise every time – on a photographer’s drop sheet, on a bronze plaque.
Julia Garner plays Sorokin (usually known as Anne Delvey) with a peculiar pseudo-European accent which, oddly, does not seem to excite curiosity. Nor does her claim to speak 7 languages and have an eidetic memory despite not recognising the toast ”nostrovia’*. Sorokin, or Delvey, has no apparent means of support (Daddy has cut her off and her trust fund doesn’t vest until she is 25). Nor is anyone alarmed by the fact that her boyfriend, Chase Sikorski (a very creepy Saamer Usmani), promises to make them all millions through his technology ‘Wake’, which will unite the peoples of the world through their dreams (the type people dream when asleep, not the kind where they believe that a nobody in her 20s can set up an exclusive social club/art gallery on Fifth Avenue).
That Sorokin deceived even one of the apparently savvy and definitely wealthy socialites, investors and bankers who were fooled is incredible, if the real Sorokin at all resembles the shonky and childlike character portrayed with perfect chilling arrogance by Garner. Of course, some must have laughed in Sorokin’s face, but this series is only concerned with people too gullible or stupid to recognise a con artist before it’s too late. We do suspect that the real people involved would have been harder-edged and even more unpleasant than their truly unlikeable screen counterparts.
Characters frequently ask, “what does Anna want?” An odd question given that what she wants, clearly, is easily-won money; even racking-up $400,000 on an unsuspecting benefactor’s credit card. But if there is any doubt as to Anna’s thoughts, there is none whatsoever about what is going through the mind of investigative journalist Vivian Kent, played by Anna Chlumsky with eye-rolling, open-mouthed gaping and grimacing. Chlumsky gasps and gurns with shock at each revelation in the trite script, none of which surprise any viewer who has their facial muscles under control. Vivian is redeeming herself from being scammed by the subject of a previous piece she wrote. (The irony!). Her slimy boss has no faith in her and assigns her to ‘me-too’ stories, but after Vivian begs, with much face-scrunching and pouting, the gruff-but-perceptive boss of her boss gives her two weeks – “just two weeks mind, kid!” – to do the Sorokin story. Vivian is assisted by a hearty and amusing crew of has-been writers – an eccentric old guy in a cardigan, an eccentric old guy in a cap and an eccentric fat woman of indeterminate race.
For reasons best known to themselves, the producers of Inventing Anna have hired screenwriters who have obviously never spoken to a lawyer, met a lawyer, or even passed a lawyer on the street. Anna’s attorney, Todd Spodek (Arian Moayed, excellent in a ludicrous role) collaborates with Vivian in writing her story, with a complete disregard for ethics. In true mini-series fashion he eeks out bits of information, even saying things like, “I’m going out of the room for 5 minutes and you had better not look at this file that I am leaving open on the table.” Vivian walks in and out of his office, apparently at will. He cracks her spine while she’s writhing on all fours to relieve her back pain. Did we mention that Vivian is pregnant? Well she is and we are never allowed to forget it as she contorts, rolls on the floor, holds her back, levers herself into chairs and groans her way through it.
So why watch a whole 4 episodes? Why watch any more, as we probably shall? Because the true story is interesting enough and the performances are good (apart from a little over-acting from one cast member which we may have mentioned). More importantly though – there are the clothes, Bergdorf Goodman and the New York brownstone interiors. It’s almost enough.[* To be fair to ‘Anna’, in the original it would be “Na Zdorovie” – Ed.]