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‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ review: Nicole Kidman’s swanky drama flatters to deceive

Comparisons with ‘The White Lotus’ are inevitable, but David E. Kelley’s latest show has a central mystery that is rather muddled and silly

It is a shame that the first three episodes of Nine Perfect Strangers streamed the same week that the excellent The White Lotus concluded. Comparisons, as we all know, are odious, but irresistible especially given the similarity of the two shows. Both shows are set in swish resorts in “a version of paradise” as the resort manager says in Old, another tale set in a posh resort. Vacationers in said resorts get more than they bargained for as their lives unravel.

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Nine Perfect Strangers shares a creator (David E. Kelley), source material (novels by Liane Moriarty) and star (Nicole Kidman) with Big Little Lies. So, comparisons are inevitable there too. Both the shows have impeccable production values, an ensemble cast, and use a central mystery to reveal big and little lies about the seemingly perfect lives of its characters in a small, closed community.

And there the similarity stops. The central mystery in Nine Perfect Strangers is rather muddled and silly; no And Then There Were None-type scenario happening here. Nine people (very, very stereotypical) come for a retreat to the swanky Tranquillum House in California run by the statuesque Masha (Nicole Kidman).

All the guests have unresolved traumas, which they hope to heal from with tender loving care from Masha and her assistants Yao (Manny Jacinto) and Delilah (Tiffany Boone). For all its opulence and luxury, there seems a curious lack of staff at Tranquillum; more on that later.

The guests include Frances (Melissa McCarthy), a writer of romance novels that no one wants to read anymore, and a victim of a catfishing scheme; Tony (Bobby Cannavale) a former football star struggling with addiction; and high school teacher Napoleon (Michael Shannon) with his wife Heather (Asher Keddie) and daughter Zoe (Grace Van Patten). The family is mourning the death of Zach (Hal Cumpston), Zoe’s twin brother.

Nine Perfect Strangers

  • Episodes: 8
  • Run time: 42 to 55 minutes
  • Creator: David E. Kelley
  • Starring: Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, Michael Shannon, Luke Evans, Asher Keddie, Samara Weaving, Melvin Gregg, Tiffany Boone, Manny Jacinto, Grace Van Patten, Zoe Terakes, Regina Hall, Bobby Cannavale
  • Storyline: Nine people come to an upscale resort for healing and get more than they bargained for

Lars (Luke Evans) has a secret agenda and relationship problems, as do Ben (Melvin Gregg) and Jessica (Samara Weaving) who struck gold with a lottery, but got the attendant problems as well. Carmel (Regina Hall), whose confidence is shot thanks to her caddish husband, completes the motley crew of guests.

As the series progresses, we learn of Masha’s background before her wellness guru avatar, which was full of bad choices and toxins, which seem to be threatening her life now. She has picked these guests, we learn, for some possibly nefarious scheme.

Frances and Tony’s story arc is the sweetest and we are rooting for them to get together from the get-go. McCarthy and Cannavale imbue their characters with a likeable normalcy. Evans does what he can with his clichéd gay character, while Weaving’s social influencer comes across as a giggly teenager. Kidman’s Masha is the most disappointing. Her accent slips on and off disconcertingly, and the glacial grace slips and stumbles as she singlehandedly fights multiple fires thanks to the distressing lack of staff.

There seem to be lot of mental health issues in Tranquillum with different characters rolling their eyes and doing over-the-top impressions of deranged people. The poignancy of losing a child is lost in the malarkey and wellness mumbo-jumbo and an almost fetishized filming of smoothies in slow motion.

Beautifully shot, in a lovely locale, with a good cast, Nine Perfect Strangers unfortunately only flatters to deceive.

Nine Perfect Strangers is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video

 

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