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Streamer: Amazon Prime Video
Length: 8 x episodes (50-60 minutes each approx)
After the surprise success of HBO’s excellent Big Little Lies adaptation, and its not-quite-as-good second season, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came a-calling for some of Aussie author Liane Moriarty’s other works.
This time around, they’ve nabbed Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers, which is a strange mix of wellness industry satire, thoughtful drama and slowburn thriller, which works pretty well for the most part.
Nine Perfect Strangers is about a group of disparate individuals (and one couple) who are staying at the flash, expensive Tranquillum House, a very exclusive wellness resort for people who want to transform their lives.
Running the joint is Masha (Nicole Kidman), a mysterious Russian woman with a nebulous backstory and more than a few skeletons in her closet. Kidman’s icy, otherworldly performance is one of the show’s highlights.
That’s not to take away from the rest of the cast of characters, mind you, as they’re uniformly great. You’ve got Frances Welty (Melissa McCarthy), a moderately successful author who is entering a career and personal life slump.
There’s the power couple of Ben (Melvin Gregg) and Jessica Chandler (Samara Weaving), who are wealthy beyond their dreams but lacking their former passion for life and each other.
You’ve got the Marconi family, comprising daughter Zoe (Grace Van Patten), mother Heather (Asher Keddie) and father Napoleon (Michael Shannon) who are all dealing with a very personal loss and can’t seem to move forward.
And there’s the low-key terrifying Carmel Schneider (Regina Hall), the moody and mercurial Tony Hogburn (Bobby Cannavale) and the dodgy-as-hell-but-quite-funny Lars Lee (Luke Evans).
What’s extremely impressive about Nine Perfect Strangers is that we really get to know these characters. And although we may not necessarily like them all, we understand them, empathise with them.
This is a good thing, because in terms of action-heavy plot and story? Nine Perfect Strangers seems to believe less is very much more.
See, while the show kind of appears at first blush to be a wellness-mocking riff on an Agatha Christie yarn, the truth is it’s pretty light on actual events. In the six (of eight) episodes available for review, the drama is almost exclusively of a cerebral nature.
It’s good, though. Damn good in some cases. There’s a sequence involving Michael Shannon delivering a speech that is likely to have all but the most hard-hearted misting up or deadset crying.
Nine Perfect Strangers is an example of a formula we’re seeing more and more these days. Hollywood buys up a successful Summer read, plays fast and loose with the source material, puts an experienced showrunner at the helm (in this case David E. Kelley) and hurls A-list talent at the project.
It worked spectacularly well with Big Little Lies, and while it doesn’t quite land as deftly here, it’s still a very solid yarn.
The cast from Nicole Kidman down are superb - with fine work from Manny Jacinto, Michael Shannon and Grace Van Patten in particular - and solid direction from Jonathan Levine.
The story straddles the line between prestige drama and enjoyable trash, crossing back and forth several times an episode, and while that can occasionally cause tonal whiplash, it’s an undeniably addictive and compulsive experience.
Nine Perfect Strangers may not change your life like a long term stay at a wellness resort, but it’s a sumptuous realisation of an engaging shaggy dog story with some great performances and surprising twists.
So, why not namaste in and give it a watch.
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