First look review: Nine Perfect Strangers (spoiler-free)
Melissa McCarthy's humour and depth8
Katherine McLaughlin | On 20, Aug 2021
Episodes 1 to 3 of Nine Perfect Strangers premieres on Friday 20th August, with the remaining episodes released weekly.
The wellness industry has its fair share of hucksters, sincere do-gooders and money-hungry influencers, something this adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s humorous and insightful novel uses to its advantage by teasing the motivations of the owner of an exclusive health spa. Nicole Kidman steps into the role of Masha, the director of Tranquillum House, with all the grace and measure of a sexy, luminous mermaid, as she glides ethereally across the lush grounds of the resort, enigmatically dropping clues as to her endgame.
The initial set-up is simple. Nine people from differing backgrounds embark on a health retreat. Over the course of their stay, as they follow specific psychological, physical and health food regimes, their real reasons for being there are revealed. For those who have read the book, there are some slight changes, with the limited 10-part series leaning deliciously into the weirdness of the surroundings and the situation, so there are still a few surprises in store.
In the book, romance novelist Francis (Melissa McCarthy) is the main protagonist and she gets a large amount of screen-time too. She’s down on her luck and needs a break from it all. After a disastrous meet-cute with the gruff Tony (Bobby Cannavale), these two characters provide odd-couple charm aplenty, as they argue and badger one another.
Michael Shannon – playing uncool, pants-to-his-chest dad Napoleon – offers some of the most memorable moments of the series as he sings delightful love songs and delivers up random lines, such as “the big yum yum”.
Napoleon is father to Zoe (Grace Van Patten) and loving husband to Heather (Asher Keddie). Samara Weaving appears to be channelling a darker version of Alexis from Schitt’s Creek, as the social media-obsessed sweetheart Jessica, her supportive partner, Ben (Melvin Gregg), occasionally rolling his eyes at her narcissism. Their story appears to have been slightly altered, with less emphasis on their underlying issues.
Regina Hall plays shy, divorced mother Carmel with a simmering intensity, her character arc slowly paced and her initial rivalry with the mysterious Lars (Luke Evans) amusingly catty. They’re joined by Masha’s right-hand people, Yao (The Good Place’s Manny Jacinto, playing it sexy) and Delilah (Tiffany Boone).
Directed by Jonathan Levine, the series luxuriates in the unknown, never giving too much away and teasing the viewer with suspense and mystery. The exotic fruit smoothies each of the guests are told to imbibe daily are enticingly shot in close-up, the whirring of the blender casting an hypnotic ambience. There’s also a good dose of emotive drama and comedy, thanks to the talented ensemble cast who each work their magic in multiple entertaining ways.
Nine Perfect Strangers is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.