Martin Carr reviews Amazon series Nine Perfect Strangers…
The talent behind this Hulu original, making its way onto Amazon this August beggars belief. Writer John-Henry Butterworth penned Edge of Tomorrow, Get On Up and Le Mans ‘66. Director Jonathan Levine was behind teenage zombie rom-com Warm Bodies, comedy drama 50/50 and had a hand in Seth Rogen hit Longshot. After all that, if you throw industry heavyweight David E. Kelley into the mix things start to get serious.
Adapted from the novel by Liane Moriarty, Nine Perfect Strangers is a new age relationship drama. Featuring a star-studded cast including Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy and Michael Shannon, it is set within the confines of a wellness retreat. This high-end detox resort is all smoothies, mantras and bonding sessions. Each guest is hand-picked, individually treated and comes with their own unique challenges.
Each character is repelled by another, while those within family units or couples are in a state of isolated friction. Performances from everyone within this densely written drama are on point. Bobby Cannavale is both vulnerable and fiery as Tony, while Regina Hall barely contains her pent up rage as Carmel. Tiffany Boone and Manny Jacinto, who some may remember from The Good Place, also bring something unique to the table as Delilah and Yao. However, it is Nicole Kidman’s Masha who represents the biggest enigma on screen.
She is statuesque, driven and supremely confident. A fireside story of perfection and poise passed around between guests prior to arrival. It is an entrance conveyed through awkward exchanges between strangers, passed off as small talk to cloak nervous tension. As a piece of writing it displays masterful construction, understated nuance and an innate grasp of tone. That Nicole Kidman carries that quality through into her performance after the reveal, is a mark of her impact overall.
As the series continues revelations, confrontations and transformative experiences redefine these people. Bonds are formed in unlikely places; attractions are acknowledged and honesty moves the goalposts. Stand outs include Samara Weaving’s Jessica, a product of the Instagram generation riddled with insecurities and yet deceptively fragile beneath that picture perfect façade. Luke Evans also raises some heckles as Lars who plays at cynicism, hides weakness behind verbal deflection and yet comes off as normal in comparison.
For all of those reasons it should work on every level and yet there are problems. Not least of which is how unengaging everything becomes. This show spends a great deal of time drip feeding epiphanies, dwelling in personal moments and dealing in character and yet there is a disconnect. Production design, cinematography and score all come together with direction and tone yet something is missing. Something which lessens the impact of its numerous twists and turns, giving Nine Perfect Strangers an enigmatic air in keeping with its Eastern European protagonist.
The first three episodes of Nine Perfect Strangers launch on Amazon Prime Video on Friday 20th August, with new episodes weekly.