'Inventing Anna' review: Julia Garner overshadows scammer story

The two-time Emmy winner is bigger than everything else around her in Shonda Rhimes' Netflix series.

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

From 2013 to 2017, a German woman in her 20s named Anna Sorokin convinced a broad swath of New York elites that she was an heiress named Anna Delvey with a $60 million trust fund. She brazenly bilked people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and stayed months at high-end hotels without paying while partying like, well, a German heiress.

Julia Garner in "Inventing Anna."

She is brought to electric life by two-time Emmy winner Julia Garner in “Inventing Anna,” a Shonda Rhimes-produced Netflix series. Garner cloaks Anna in icy confidence and condescension and then teases out the tiny cracks in her veneer, letting sharp, fleeting moments of panic flicker behind her eyes whenever the con starts to crumble. It’s a wonderfully cold performance of repressed terror.

But “Inventing Anna” simply offers too much of a good thing, ultimately diluting its own impact. It’s immediately apparent that Anna is inventing herself, but what could have been a solid two-hour movie or even five-hour mini-series wanders on for more than nine hours as episodes are given over to characters whose lives were impacted by Anna. Sorry, but there’s a reason they’re minor characters.

The essential dynamic here is the tension between Anna and a pregnant magazine reporter, Vivian (Anna Chlumsky), who initially sets out to expose her and then later befriends her. The contrast between Vivian’s everyday fortysomething frumpiness and Anna’s high-gloss twentysomething delusions works nicely.

But this is a Shondaland production so the show is overstuffed with side characters and tensions. Vivian is cheered on by a corny trio of veteran journalists and has to battle a cold fish editor, Anna is surrounded by various gal pals, each with their own quirk. Do these things matter? Not really,

Still, is it watchable? Of course. Rhimes brings in familiar faces from other Shondaland shows, travels to exotic places, has Anna strut about in all manner of glitzy outfits — Anna loves to shop — and generally offers up solid modern TV entertainment. But a tighter, more succinct work would have lived up to Garner’s performance.

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News. 

'Inventing Anna'

GRADE: B-

Rated TV-MA

On Netflix