The Netflix Original Series Inventing Anna follows reporter Vivian Kent (Anna Chlumsky) as she strives to cover the rise and fall of Anna Sorokin, a.k.a. Anna Delvey (Julia Garner), the “fake heiress” who took elite members of New York’s business and art communities for a ride while she attempted to start an exclusive art club financed on the promise of an inheritance that did not exist.
Inventing Anna looks a lot like the shows Shonda Rhimes created for ABC, particularly Scandal. It has a fun soundtrack, upbeat pacing, quick dialogue, and even features several “Shondaland players” in the ensemble cast, giving fast-talking, quirky performances. In these ways, the series feels like a binge of what used to be called “water-cooler TV.” In addition to making must-see programming, Rhimes also has a track record for shows with strong, interesting female leads and Inventing Anna does a great job of balancing the two interconnected stories of Anna and Vivian. Those who come to the drama because of their interest in the Anna Delvey case might be frustrated by how much of the early show focuses on Vivian, but I found her story compelling, sometimes more so than Anna’s, and Anna Chlumsky gives a solid performance. Julia Garner is a stand-out as Anna, from her outsized confidence to her ambiguous accent.
Inventing Anna makes some subtle digs at the establishments that Sorokin ran up against, including the finance industry, media, and court system. The most memorable such moment to me was when a lawyer who advises Sorokin faces “no consequences” for falling for her scheme, except for when he is shown in forlorn resignation over being bumped to the 12th racquetball court at the club. The show stops short of making a coherent critique and I found myself researching because I suspect some people got a biased portrayal. Despite its narrative faults and liberties with the truth, the series is a lot of fun to watch.
In a curiously similar story, Netflix’s documentary The Tinder Swindler tells the story of three women, Cecilie, Pernilla, and Ayleen, who were duped by the same conman, Simon LeViev, and then team up to take him down. Simon posed as the son of a wealthy family in the diamond business, and once the women believed he was committed to them, he worked them for eye-popping amounts of money, claiming he needed it to keep safe from his family’s “enemies.” Right.
The Tinder Swindler puts the audience on the side of the victims by staging their interviews over drinks in restaurant-like settings, making it feel like we are being told the story by a friend. This intimate setting helps make the story more engaging and believable even as it gets into some pretty unbelievable details. The production also uses several technological mediums to tell the story through texts, voicemails, and personal photos. It brings the receipts in a visually interesting fashion.
Although The Tinder Swindler is well-made and sympathetically told, it does leave a lot of threads hanging by the end, stranding the audience with plenty of questions. Perhaps just a bit of the time dedicated to showing Simon’s lavish lifestyle could have been dedicated to further detective work.
The Tinder Swindler was directed by Felicity Morris. It runs 1 hour 56 minutes and is rated TV-MA.
Finally, on Amazon, I Want You Back is a new romantic comedy in which Emma (Jenny Slate) and Peter (Charlie Day) team up for a scheme to break their ex-partners’ new relationships so they can get them back. The idea is that Emma will seduce Peter’s ex-girlfriend, Anne’s (Gina Rodriguez) new boyfriend, Logan (Manny Jacinto), so that she will remember what a good guy Peter was and go back to him. Meanwhile, Peter will befriend Emma’s ex-boyfriend, Noah (Scott Eastwood), and remind him how great Emma was. It’s like Strangers on a Train but more convoluted.
Although Jenny Slate and Charlie Day give funny performances, the chemistry between all of the possible romantic pairings falls flat. It is hard to sell a romantic comedy without a convincing couple. On top of that, the writing starts strong but quickly devolves to cringey moments that produce more eye-rolling than laughter. I had hopes that I Want You Back would remind me of a Nora Ephron movie with its old-timey soundtrack and awkward meet-cute, but instead, it drags the story down with tired Millennial comedy tropes.
I Want You Back was written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger and directed by Jason Orley. It runs 1 hour 56 minutes and is rated R.
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