A group of people are invited to a luxurious wellness retreat to better their lives but discover their paradise is hiding a dark secret. Digital editor Dan Jensen checks into a new series filmed in our own Byron Bay.
NINE PERFECT STRANGERS is an eight-episode mini-series created by television powerhouse David E Kelley and adapted from the novel by Australian author Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies). It tells the story of a group of broken people looking to improve their lives at a wellness retreat that isn’t all it first appears to be and they end up on a journey of discovery about themselves and each other.
The series boasts a stellar ensemble cast that includes some great Australian talent. Nicole Kidman plays Masha, the Russian founder of Tranquillum House who is hiding some dark secrets of her own. Kidman also serves as executive producer along with Melissa McCarthy, departing from her usual comedic roles as Frances, an author who is struggling with her career.
The cast also has Bobby Cannavale, Luke Evans, Regina Hall, Asher Keddie and an almost unrecognisable Samara Weaving in lead roles. But the standout performer in this is the always great Michael Shannon as Napoleon Marconi — a husband and father who is finding it hard to grieve over the loss of his teenage son while keeping his family from falling apart. Shannon turns in a performance packed with emotion and range and is in top form here.
The series takes an episode or two to really draw the viewer in as it doesn’t rush to establish the characters and why they are at Tranquillum House, but from there it becomes intriguing enough to make you come back. There are several themes being explored as the story unfolds — most significantly, the importance of human connection and how openness can be a great healer. There is irony in the title as each character is far from perfect and harbours their own uniquely painful history.
Other themes that are touched upon include the way we sometimes jump to conclusions about people without considering their own stories, the importance of accepting our own flaws and learning to let go of the baggage in our lives. The show also pokes fun at wellness and self-improvement culture, particularly how it is embraced by the wealthy.
But aside from the thematic elements, the show is gorgeous to look at. Filmed in Byron Bay, not only is the scenery stunning but the cinematography and camerawork are often outstanding. Series director Jonathan Levine knows how to frame shots and move the camera to accentuate the emotional distance between characters and he uses the language of film to great effect.
Being heavy on the drama, there are a great many dialogue scenes throughout the series but thankfully, they’re never boring. The characters are written well enough to make you want to know more about them and always have something interesting to say. And there’s just enough curiosity as to what’s really going on at Tranquillum House to keep the viewer guessing.
However, the episodes are never quite as compelling as they could or should be. When compared to other stories of strangers coming together at a remote location, such as Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None or the 2018 film Bad Times at the El Royale, featuring gripping plots that kept tension at a high throughout, Nine Perfect Strangers feels comparatively light. Sure, there are enough plot devices woven into the narrative to make you want to find out what happens next and some great acting and directing on show, but the chemistry between the characters often feels a little clumsy. The show never quite finds that perfect balance of them learning about themselves and each other.
Perhaps later episodes might clarify why there seems to be such a disconnection between the characters (currently the show has aired five of the eight episodes, with each new one released weekly) but if the story has reached this point with interactions feeling somewhat forced, it needs to have a good reason. Time will tell.
Overall, Nine Perfect Strangers is worth checking out if you’re a fan of light drama, a little mystery or any of the top-notch cast. It’ll keep you coming back, but it might not have you rushing out to tell all your friends about it and most likely won't draw you back in to rewatch it again.
Nine Perfect Strangers is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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