Based on the bestselling novel by Liane Moriarty, Nine Perfect Strangers is a captivating story adapted for the small screen by the team that gifted us with the Emmy-nominated Big Little Lies.
The star-studded ensemble series follows nine guests as they check into Tranquillum House, a holistic deluxe wellness retreat that’s meant to be life-changing. Running the 10-day spa retreat is the enigmatic Russian-born Masha (Nicole Kidman), who prefers to use unorthodox methods to treat her clients. She does this with the help of her two assistants Yao (Manny Jacinto) and Delilah (Tiffany Boone).
The nine guests are played by Melissa McCarthy, Michael Shannon, Bobby Cannavale, Regina Hall, Samara Weaving, Melvin Gregg, Luke Evans, Asher Keddie and Grace Van Patten.
The eight-episode drama (critics were given six of the episodes) is alluring and punctuated with the grief, trauma and inner conflict that consumes the guests as they hope for renewal after their retreat. The profound, thought-provoking themes of life’s deeper meanings seem to be well-handled and do linger in the minds of the viewers.
You’d think that with such an ensemble, some cast members would falter or appear left behind. But what the show does really well is give space for every character to develop. Their highs and lows are well-documented over the course of the episodes.
The Characters + Plot
McCarthy and Cannavale excel as they swiftly move between the dramatic and comedic tones of the story. Their characters are both haunted by their failures and while they seem to hate each other off the bat, their undeniable chemistry is quite palpable.
Hall is extremely sympathetic as a divorcee whose husband left her for a younger woman. Her insecurity is often masked with optimism as she hopes the retreat will fix her, and Hall plays the role to a tee.
Weaving plays a wannabe social media influencer whose existence depends on the digital “likes” she gets on the gram. Her character’s insecurity is perhaps the most sympathetic as she sheds her materialistic persona and allows the audience to see her struggle with her perceived imperfections. This is new material for Weaving (known for Guns Akimbo, Ready or Not), and she revels in the role.
Evans is hilarious as the class-A jerk who seems to have no filter. Having never seen Evans in this light, it was quite entertaining to watch him showcase his comedic strengths. There’s never a dull moment with him around and he catches you off-guard with his well-timed quips—which will have you laughing out loud.
Shannon and Keddie play a couple who bring their daughter, played by Patten, to the retreat in the hopes of moving on from a tragedy—the suicide of their son. It’s their unimaginable trauma that’s heartbreaking to watch. Shannon thrives in this environment, dancing his way between an enthusiastic teacher and a broken-hearted parent.
Kidman is enchanting as Masha, carrying herself confidently while hiding her devious intentions. When a character asks her exactly how evil she is, she pauses and smiles before answering: “Just the right amount.” That best defines how Kidman catapults the audience into yet another one of her central roles. While it might not be as memorable as her work on Big Little Lies or The Undoing, she is nonetheless incredibly convincing—almost channeling an unearthly guru—that even her unconventional wellness activities, like grave digging, sound sane when she delivers it.
The series is wrapped up as a drama, with undercurrents of well-written comedy, and anchored by performances that keep you invested in the story. As Nine Perfect Strangers unravels, the different character arcs begin to get more complex and compelling. The series could have spiralled in multiple ways, but it’s impressive how it unfolds.
The series is not without its faults. For one, Kidman’s Russian accent is a distraction. Then they add in a killer on the loose who’s threatening Masha. That feels like one more storyline than was needed but perhaps the last two episodes will neatly tie up any loose loose ends. There are also some moments when the show slows and viewers may feel like checking out of the retreat. That is until the next psychedelic group trip with a new set of antics.
I’d say come for the plot that promises a vacation for a group of entitled wealthy folks, but stay for the rich, grounded performances from an extremely talented cast.
Nine Perfect Strangers premiered August 18 on Hulu in the U.S. and premieres today on Amazon Prime Video in other regions.