Hollywood seems to be obsessed with true con artist sagas as of late. Hulu’s most recent offering, “The Dropout,” chronicling the misdeeds of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, hit the streamer today. It comes on the heels of two new Netflix shows, “The Tinder Swindler,” about the scams of online lothario Simon Leviev, and “Inventing Anna,” a fictionalized retelling of the story of grifter Anna Delvey (Julia Garner) – real name Anna Sorokin – a twenty-something who swindled her way across New York, conning hotels, restaurants and the city’s upper echelon out of hundreds of thousands of dollars until finally landing herself in prison in 2017. As summed up by New York Times reporter Emily Palmer, evidence present at Delvey’s month-long trial “showed she stole a private jet and bilked banks, hotels and associates out of about $200,000. She did all of this while attempting to secure a $25 million loan from a hedge fund to create an exclusive arts club. Swindling her way into a life of luxury, Sorokin deceived Manhattan’s elite into believing she was a German heiress worth 60 million euros. In reality, she had no real wealth, college degree or business experience. She wasn’t even German.”
The Shonda Rhimes-backed series, based upon journalist Jessica Pressler’s 2018 New York magazine piece titled “Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It,” debuted in mid-February and is still ranking in the platform’s Top Ten today, though it hasn’t exactly been well-received by viewers or critics. Harshly panned by publications ranging from Vogue to Vox to Salon, “Inventing Anna” is currently earning a dismal 33% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. The criticism is not exactly unwarranted considering the nine-episode show drags on about three episodes too long, boasts few likable characters and demonizes the majority of Anna’s victims, while seemingly making a hero of the con woman at its center with no real explanation as to why.
The series also seems to play as fast and loose with the facts as Anna herself, a convention alluded to in text appearing at the beginning of each episode cheekily stating, “This story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are totally made up.” The “totally made up parts” aren’t specified, leaving it up to the audience to distinguish fact from fiction. But if any of Anna’s post-arrest interviews are to be believed, her actual persona seems very far removed from the sophisticated, business-savvy dynamo presented onscreen – as does the deck she created to garner investors for her arts club, which looks more like a Pinterest-y conglomeration of stock images in real life than the sleekly professional booklet featured in episode three.