'Inventing Anna' Was Never Going to Be Good

The problem with shows and movies based on true events — Inventing Anna, WeCrashed, The Dropout — is that we already know how they end.

Do We Know Too Much to Be Entertained?
Photo: Getty Images/InStyle

Anna Sorokin, aka Anna Delvey, is looking directly into the camera, gray-blue eyes spotlighted by tapered black fishtail eyeliner, messy light brown hair swept haphazardly about her head, mouth slightly agape and about to tell you the story of a lifetime. This image is basically the Times Square V-J Day photo to me at this point. I've seen it countless times in the nearly four years since it was published in New York magazine's 2018 exposé "Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It."

Millions read the story of the fraudulent heiress, so-termed the "SoHo Grifter." Mind you, Jessica Pressler's article came out before Sorokin famously put on her courtroom fashion show, went to prison, was released from prison, or was sent to an ICE detention center for overstaying her visa. Sorokin has been in the news (and at the forefront of our collective consciousness) non-stop since the spring of 2018 — earlier if the New York article wasn't your introduction to the infamous scammer. Which, of course, prompts me to ask, why did anyone think we needed this to become a Netflix show?

I ask the same question of every similar "you liked this news story, let's turn it into an opportunity for [insert movie/TV star] to try a new accent" adaptation of 2022 (of which there are many): Amanda Seyfried plays indicted Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes in Hulu's The Dropout; Kate McKinnon stars as Carole Baskin in Peacock's Joe vs. Carole; Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway appear as the disgraced first couple of WeWork in WeCrashed on AppleTV+; and Lily James and Sebastian Stan star as the titular Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee of Hulu's Pam & Tommy (which is the only show on this list to benefit from breathing room — a couple decades of it).

Inventing Anna is not a good show, and it probably wouldn't have been a good show even if Sorokin's story wasn't millennial lore. But its main issue is still plot — we've heard this story before, from different voices, on different platforms, and we simply don't need to hear it again. I had hope that a retelling of Sorokin's exploits would at least be fun to watch, but somehow the series (which cheekily advertises as being "completely true … except for the parts that are totally made up") feels like a sanitization of a much richer and more surprising narrative. The last thing I expected from a dramatization of Sorokin's story was to be bored, and yet here we are.

Inventing Anna
Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2021

For Sorokin, Holmes, Baskin, and Tiger King's titular eccentric, Joe Exotic, especially, their stories are already modern pop-culture touchstones. Holmes has inspired a black turtleneck-clad fandom ("Holmies"), Sorokin may have single-handedly revived the choker, and the duo of big cat adversaries was among the hottest Halloween costumes of 2020 (just ask Kim Kardashian). They're already so ingrained in the zeitgeist that further exploration of their stories feels both unnecessary and just … dumb?

Why bother hiring an actor to play a role when the real person who inspired it already played it well enough to enrapture a nation? We know too much to suspend our disbelief, and every imitation will simply pale when compared to the unhinged reality. That's not a knock to Anna's Julia Garner, who I'd argue is one of the best actresses of our generation. If anything, her adept performance just proves my point.

This is part of the reason I believe Pablo Larraín's Spencer was such a critical success. Instead of producing another Princess Diana biopic and hitting all the familiar beats (royal wedding, tragic death), writer Steven Knight took what we all know about the late royal and applied it to a small period of time that we don't have much concrete knowledge on, constructing a film that is less biography than it is creative interpretation. Now, this is the kind of project I'd be excited to see for our scammers. Imagine 90 minutes (because no movie should be longer) of Holmes and Sunny Balwani, her lover-turned-accomplice, just, like, hanging out in Palm Springs, or Sorokin slowly crafting her alias and working out the kinks while she interned at Purple magazine? Give me that movie, or frankly don't bother.

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