When a white clad, waif-thin Nicole Kidman enters the frame, a chill runs down the viewer’s spine. She looks as ghostly as she is beautiful, in the role of Masha, a wellness guru, in the series (co-produced by her), Nine Perfect Strangers, based on the book by Liane Moriarty.
Directed by Jonathan Levine, the mini-series is set in a spa in a breathtakingly picturesque location in Australia, and begins with the nine people who have signed up for an expensive ten-day retreat making their way to Tranquillum House.
As expected they are all troubled, and Masha, along with her serene, smiling assistants, Delilah (Tiffany Boone) and Yao (Manny Jacinto), promises to change their lives for the better. The one who seems most restless is romance writer Francis Welty (Melissa McCarthy), who has been conned by an online scam, and her latest book has been trashed by critics
The garrulous Napoleon Marconi (Michael Shannon) is trying to hold on to his unhappy family comprising wife Heather (Asher Keddie) and daughter Zoe (Grace Van Patten); Tony (Bobby Cannavale), is a former football player battling a painkiller addiction; young couple Jessica and the yellow Lamborghini-driving Ben (Samara Weaving and Melvin Gregg), are trying to save their marriage, Carmel (Regina Hall), is a chatty divorceé, who pines for her estranged kids, and Lars (Luke Evans), who has been dumped by his boyfriend, has an ulterior motive for being at the retreat.
Friction among the nine is inevitable and a few of them, despite voluntarily seeking wellness, seem to be resentful of Masha, who, of course calmly deflects their anger and confusion, as she keeps track of them through hidden cameras. In the first two episodes (new ones will drop every week), their arrival at Tranquillum House, a bit of their back stories are dealt with and Masha’s mysterious past hinted at.
Masha soothes and manipulates the nine clients, and it is clear that with her questionable practices – like making them dig graves and lie in them—will spiral out of control in future episodes.
Nine Perfect Strangers does look bland and suffers in comparison to another running series, The White Lotus (on Disney-Hotstar), about a bunch of rich people vacationing at a resort in Hawaii, which critics have found better written and more complex.
Those who have read the book will know where the plot is headed, others will find it somewhat engaging (though it is tough to muster up sympathy for this whiny bunch), but also predictable. Where the script sags the actors—particularly McCarthy, Cannavale and Shannon—hold it up. Nicole Kidman, who also starred in Big Little Lies, by the same best-selling novelist, makes sure she finds projects that work for her and makes up for her deficiency in acting talent with the sheer force of her personality.
Directed by Jonathan Levine
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Shannon, Luke Evans and others
On Amazon Prime (8 Episodes)