There’s a scene in an early episode of Inventing Anna when I realized how wild this show is. It happens when journalist Vivian (Anna Chlumsky) goes to visit scammer Anna Delvey (Julia Garner) in jail to interview her for a story. The crimes of Anna Delvey are all Vivian can think about and for good reason. Anna, a 25-year-old from Russia, managed to fool dozens of powerful Manhattanites into thinking she was a German heiress with enough trust fund money to start a multitier social club. Through extreme manipulation, Anna not only managed to become an anointed member of New York’s elite; she was dangerously close to securing an eight-figure loan to finance said social club. Throw in some jet stealing, hotel-bill dodging, and charging her friend’s credit card $60,000, and you have a scammer of fantastic proportions.
But none of this is on Anna’s mind when Vivian tries to interview her. She’s cool, calm, collected—seemingly feeling no guilt about her laundry list of white-collar crimes. In fact, she shows emotion only once: while dissing Vivian’s outfit. “What are you wearing?” Anna asks Vivian in disgust. “You look poor.” She then rolls her eyes and dismisses Vivian’s clothes as “broke-ass.”
It’s a shallow, ridiculous scene that’s meant to be funny. Remember: Anna Delvey is literally sitting in jail right now. New York’s smartest attorneys are coming for her, circling her body like she’s bloody fish in shark-infested waters. Yet all she can think about is how Vivian needs to add Carolina Herrera and Dior to her wardrobe. It’s delusional. It’s preposterous. It’s, as you’ll find out, quintessential Anna.
Inventing Anna is really an exploration of one determined woman’s delusion. When Anna racks up bill after bill at five-star hotels, takes over a charted yacht after the patrons leave, and has legitimate meetings with Wall Street bros, you’ll routinely ask yourself, “How is she not freaking out?” After all, this is a woman who literally has no money but is parading around town like she does, collecting friends and lawyers and accountants like she’s a celebrity with deep pockets. How is she not lying awake at night, waiting for the other shoe to drop? Waiting for everyone to realize she’s nothing but smoke and mirrors?
The answer to that is complicated, but what it comes down to is Anna fully believes what she’s selling. In her mind, she is a tastemaker with endless means. She is a high-roller who doesn’t sweat a $5,000 dinner bill. She is, simply put, rich as fuck. And when you strongly believe your own lie, it’s not hard to make others think it’s true.
Those other people, the people Anna scammed, include a celebrity trainer played by Laverne Cox, a Vanity Fair photo editor played by Katie Lowes, and a luxury hotel concierge played by Alexis Floyd. They were all hopelessly wrapped up in the cult of Anna, convinced she was European Paris Hilton set to take over New York City. They trusted her, befriended her, and accepted lavish gifts from her. But those gifts came with a hefty price tag, one they weren’t in any position to pay.