Based on the 2018 novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty, Nine Perfect Strangers follows nine individuals who check in to a boutique wellness resort in search of a healing and transformative journey led by the resort’s mysterious owner, Masha (Nicole Kidman).
Nine Perfect Strangers kicks off by introducing us to this somewhat shady resort, led by an individual whose intentions are also shrouded in mystery. It’s not exactly clear what’s going on, nor where it’s all heading, but it leads you to believe that at some point, secrets will be revealed. Unfortunately, the driving force of the series – this main narrative and overarching mystery – just isn’t engaging enough to keep you locked in for the eight-episode run. It spends the bulk of its episodes meandering through subplots and going off on all these odd tangents that it’s hard to get a real grip of what the end goal is until maybe the last episode or two. It’s as if you would like to find out the answers, but it’s taking such a long-winded path to get there that it’s not really doing anything to spark any excitement to jump right into the next episode.
Akin to Big Little Lies, this series is certainly a slow burn. It’s not rushing to get anywhere, with some episodes feeling like they make absolutely no progression towards the finale. There’s the occasional hint of potentially exciting drama and the tease of things heading in a neat direction, but it never really delivers on any of that. Just when it shows signs of doing something potentially cool, it reverts back to its default bland narrative. For instance, the penultimate episode is the first and only episode where I thoroughly enjoyed what the main narrative was doing. There was this added thriller-heavy atmosphere with some hints of horror which were great to watch. It’s the direction I thought it was going to have taken multiple episodes prior, and I was glad it was happening – setting up some genuine intrigue going into the finale. Then the finale drops and fails to deliver on anything set up in that episode, resulting in an ending that lacks any real payoff in terms of the main mystery. And so, it all just falls flat.
Where the series shines is exclusively in regards to the performances and the individual development arcs of the guest characters. I may not have given two shits about where the main story was going, but I cared about following the interactions of these guests and how their behaviours changed from when we first met them through to where we leave them. The relationships of these guests as they go through this communal experience are the only written elements that flourish. It helps create individual character-building scenes that shine through the episodes where nothing much of value really happens.
Beyond this, the ensemble performances are just fantastic. Michael Shannon, Melissa McCarthy, Regina Hall, Bobby Cannavale, Luke Evans, Samara Weaving, Asher Keddie, Melvin Gregg and Grace Van Patten are mesmerising through every single episode, really nailing the unique qualities of their respective characters. Michael Shannon’s very off-beat and quirky performance is flawlessly executed. Regina Hall is truly underrated, especially considering the layers to her performance and the powerful scenes she’s got in here. Melissa McCarthy and Bobby Cannavale both bring a light comedic tone, while also contributing to the emotional impact of their respective journeys. All of the above performers are awesome, but you’ll notice one key omission.
Nicole Kidman’s performance and overall character just didn’t resonate with me at all throughout the series. Firstly, her character, despite being the centre of the series, was the least interesting one of the bunch. Sure, there’s mystery behind her intentions, but I was much more engaged by the aforementioned arcs of every single character around her. Then her performance just lacked the impact that many of the other performers exhibited – with much of her line delivery just feeling too flat and one-note. Part of that could be attributed to the character, but even then she doesn’t do much to bring intrigue to her character’s arc. On top of all that, the Russian accent was a questionable decision as it’s not integral to the plot in absolutely any way. I’m sure it’s in here due to the character being Russian in the novel, but you can either change that character to an American/Australian woman to fit Nicole Kidman, or cast someone who can pull off a Russian accent. It was just too jarring and out-of-place to simply overlook it.
In the end, Nine Perfect Strangers is elevated solely via the phenomenal ensemble performances and individual character arcs of the guest characters. Those relationships and moments of character development are pretty much the only thing this series has going for it. Aside from the seventh episode, the main narrative does nothing to drive any real intrigue, excitement or interest in seeing where things end up. It feels like it’s just wandering aimlessly towards a finale where there’s no real foreseeable end goal. Then when you finally reach that end-point, it can’t deliver any real payoff to make the journey a worthwhile one. Overall, this series never reaches the point of being brutally unwatchable, but the only reason to actually watch it in the first place is to see some solid performances from A-list actors.