Lianne Moriarty’s “Nine Perfect Strangers” has received the Midas Touch from Nicole Kidman and her company to bring this best-selling novel to full life as a series on Hulu. The book provides more than a basic foundation for the series as it maintains the premise and narrative arc of each of the characters. What it changes, however, gives the story intrigue, mystery, and multi-dimensional characters. With a twisting, turning script and actors who breathe complexity and reality into their characters, “Nine Perfect Strangers,” thanks to the creative talents of Kidman and her crew at Blossom Films, will make you set a reminder each week on your phone to tune in to the next episode on Hulu.
If you’ve read the book –this isn’t a prerequisite– the series begins a little later as we meet the guests of Tranquilum, a word of mouth health spa. Arriving, some begrudgingly, some who are antagonistic toward one another, we find that they each have their own story to tell. With great style and screenwriting skills, we are immediately captivated by each and every one of these characters.
Francis (Melissa McCarthy) is a heartbroken, lonely, and previously successful author of romance novels. Duped by an on-line scammer, she is struggling to makes sense of her life; confidence waning with an unpredictable future. Tony, an abrasive brut, is her nemesis, never holding back his thoughts as if the edit mode has long been broken. The Marconi family comprised of their soon-to-be 21 year-old daughter Zoe (Grace Van Patten), father Napoleon (Michael Shannon), and wife Heather (Asher Keddie) have suffered an unspeakable tragedy and have graciously been granted a discounted stay at the facility. Carmel (Regina Hall) is a confused, soft-spoken woman who seems more like a sad little puppy dog, and Lars (Luke Evans), a mysterious and angry man lashes out at anyone within striking distance. To round out this strange but somehow connected group of broken individuals looking for a healing spa week, the lottery winning couple Ben (Melvin Gregg) and Jessica (Samara Weaving) bring their own baggage to unpack during the week. Together, these nine strangers– definitely not perfect– lead by Masha and her staff, will venture down a path with the hopes of healing, but what they find may be much more than they bargained for.
Tranquilum is the brain child of Masha (Kidman), an intimidatingly beautiful, confident, and intelligent woman whose staff worships the ground she walks on. The effect she has on her guests is equally powerful as she addresses each of them and their issues. Set in the hills of California, beautifully secluded, the guests complete tasks as they focus on their health and wellness. Manny Jacinto slips confidently into the persona of Yao, leaving behind that quirky character of Jason Mendoza from “The Good Place” and Tiffany Boone finds just the right tone to bring Delilah to life.
“Nine Perfect Strangers” takes the basic premise and characters of the book and elevates each and every one of them, and thanks to astute casting, we find a connection with each as well. McCarthy is spot-on perfect, portraying Francis with a wit and intelligence that makes us laugh, but we can see the pain she suffers. With each episode, we learn more as she shares and gets to know the other guests. No one could have more perfectly portrayed this character than McCarthy as she breathes a breath of believability into Francis and we just can’t get enough.
Bobby Cannavale rounds out his character of Tony and Regina Hall gives Carmela a layered personality that could easily be someone you know or perhaps it’s even a representation of you. Michael Shannon gives us a never before seen portrayal of an upbeat, always-look-at-the-bright-side kind of guy. His chipper attitude and never wanting to rock the boat is unexpected, but perfectly portrayed. Together with Van Patten and Keddie, they superficially seem to be an ordinary and happy family, but with finely tuned performances and deft direction, we feel that’s not the case…and we are right. Weaving shines with her Instagram and social media always-ready look, as she reminds us not to judge a book by its cover. This ensemble cast is brilliant, hooking you from the first episode to the last.
The series follows much of what the book sets up for the foundation, but it boldly deviates, taking a right turn instead of a left. Where the book spun its wheels, looking for signs of how to proceed, the series takes the reigns and pushes full steam ahead. We have to hold on tightly as we careen around each corner, not knowing where the story will land. This smart, succinct script pulls you into uncharted territory, satisfying your intellectual and emotional cravings. In other words, “Nine Perfect Strangers” is simply riveting.