Nine Perfect Strangers is based on the 2018 book by Liane Moriarty. Nine ostensibly perfect strangers find themselves at a wellness retreat, Tranquillum House in California, to rest, recuperate, find themselves, and their purpose in life. The place is run by the mysterious Masha, a Russian woman with dubious motives. It becomes apparent that they are not guests by chance; they have been picked, but why? It also becomes clear that the place is run along very odd lines and their hostess is more than passing strange. Masha is also being stalked by someone sinister. Things go downhill very quickly into chaos and some rather drastic situations involving the paranormal.
Having watched The White Lotus, which I absolutely loved, with a kind of horrified fascination, I thought this would be similar kind of dark social satire. Sadly, it was not. While fatally flawed and only saved by reasons I shall enlarge upon shortly, the biggest problem with 9PS is that it is an homage to one person: actress Nicole Kidman, who is also an executive producer. Unless the actress is Glenn Close or Meryl Streep, an homage can be dodgy. This one is very definitely skewed in favour of an actress who could not actually hold all the threads together.
The plot is filled with holes you can drive a truck through. This is the most expensive resort around and yet none of the guests knew they had to sign an NDA, give blood for tests, surrender all electronic devices, and drink weird concoctions which resulted in even weirder behaviour. The location, while beautiful, is very obviously Australia (Byron Bay, NSW) so why the producers tried to pass it off as California beats me. The whole plot soon reveals as being an elaborately staged project by Masha to invoke the supernatural based on (of course) drugs and the grief of several of the characters. She is hoping to cross the divide between this world and the next. This is all revealed very quickly and then the point is somewhat moot as Masha proceeds to become even more and more deranged and the guests band together for protection.
The series succeeded in spite of Kidman, not because of her. Kidman plays Masha as a somewhat unhinged Madame Arcati, with a truly dreadful Russian accent that kept slipping, a wig that looked like an old mop, and clothes that hinted at girlish times back in Russia with lots of crochet lace and cheesecloth. Many scenes turned into yawn-fests with excess time spent on Masha swimming, Masha sitting under a tree, Masha lying almost naked on a bed while she seduces her wingman. Alas, were the actress 32 instead of 52, this might have worked. Kidman’s love affair with Botox has resulted in her expressions being reduced to staring wide-eyed, clenching her jaw, and looking grim. Everyone else acted her off the screen. Repeated and interminable flashbacks (always the same, of Masha) also add to audience boredom. Plus, the camera does not lie and there were the occasional very realistic and unfuzzed moments….
The good stuff comes via the actors who pull the whole thing together despite the above-mentioned production fatalities. I have always thought of Melissa McCarthy as the ‘fat chick’ in movies, the chubby friend who makes the main star look good. She is amazing in her portrayal of a disillusioned romance writer struggling with her own personal life and her flagging career. Plus, she really rocks red lipstick. Bobby Canavale is another actor I have seen in small roles, but he shines as the rising sports star felled by an accident and a descent into pills and booze. I have always liked Luke Evans in movies. In real life he is gay, but his portrayal of a gay character seemed unexpectedly cliched and uncertain. Samara Weaving and Greg Chandler play the couple with marital problems. I thought they were just background figures in the beginning but give them time—they do surprise the audience. Regina Hall, the single mom struggling with anger issues, well, she drops a bombshell and had me taken aback when her role in all this is revealed. The others all played their parts well and the degree to which they end up annoying the audience is a testament to their skill.
The music is really excellent, and the opening graphics are visually stunning and strangely psychedelic, which gives the audience a good idea of what they are about to encounter. However, I found the story fell apart at the end and the tying up of loose ends was very deus ex machina. But, if you can bypass the boring bits of self-indulgent homage, this is worth watching, if only for Melissa and Bobby’s story. 3/5