Shonda Rhimes’ second contribution to her Netflix deal is a dangerous disappointment
Humankind has always been one for posturing, from politicians to celebrities. However, today’s world, filled with the constant observation of social media, filters, and shorter attention spans has manipulated young generations into distorting their entire reality. This is a curious pretext to the Netflix mini-series Inventing Anna (2022) about the real life con-woman who lied her way into the elite New York scene.
Inventing Anna is the true story of Anna Sorokin (Julia Garner), a mysterious woman who claims to be a German heiress, and whom, through charm and peer pressure, weaves her way into the upper echelons of American society. The miniseries jumps back and forth between Anna’s rise through society in the early 2010s, to 2017 where investigative reporter Vivian Kent (Anna Chlumsky) is trying to piece her story together.
Inventing Anna is only the second project from Shonda Rhimes’ nine-figure exclusivity deal with Netflix (the first was the soapy Bridgerton (2020-). The story of Anna Sorokin is a fascinating one that could be used to bring commentary on today’s image-obsessed world. However, Rhimes seems to be completely at a loss in focusing her story, making Inventing Anna feel like a wandering and disparate story that botches any potential societal commentary or character exploration.
Julia Garner is the star of the show, she is clearly intrigued by the mystery and careful balance that Anna must undertake in order for her “faking it until she makes it” ploy to work out. Garner’s complex performance is enhanced when put beside the one note and flat characters surrounding her. Rhimes seems to be more focused on the soapy elements of the story than in crafting grounded characters, this results in every performance to be an exaggerated stereotype: the harried reporter, the tech bro boyfriend, the uptight banker, etc. Rhimes’ writing and the different directors, sadly, dig deeper into the camp and flashy aspects instead of wanting to delve into what makes each character tick.
It is this lack of effort in trying to understand or explore characters that becomes the most frustrating broken promise in Inventing Anna. Throughout the series, we are slowly investigating and putting the pieces of the puzzle down to try and discern who Anna really is. However, in the end the show seems to give up with the laziest explanation I’ve seen in a while: “she was always like this.” This laziness is also evident in the sociological commentary the series makes (or doesn’t make), with a character actually saying the following words: “this has to do with class commentary and social mobility or something like that.” That is the extent of the series’ interest in how this event fits into our larger society today. This lack of work into investigating and pondering what this true story is symptomatic of is dangerously misconstrued in the final episode of Inventing Anna. The finale places Anna on a pedestal, claiming she was a hero who was trying to “beat the system,” yet seems to disregard the incredible amount of money she stole from friends and associates to live a lavish life. She wasn’t stealing and giving to the poor, or even just trying to get by, but trying to become a part of the oppressive and flamboyant class that Inventing Anna is claiming she was trying to destroy. As a result, for this viewer, it was hard not to scream to the television “you didn’t get it!”
Inventing Anna is a disappointing sophomore contribution from Rhimes to her Netflix collaboration. The lack of research, poor writing, disparate directing, and dangerously misunderstood moral to the story, combines for a rather frustrating and anxiety-inducing watch for those who see this as further championing the toxic lies and fakeness of the social media world. Sadly, Garner’s incredibly strong performance will be lost amongst it all.