The cult of wellness
Review: Nine Perfect Strangers
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, Michael Shannon, Bobby Cannavale, Luke Evans, Manny Jacinto
Like the fruit being pulverised into smoothies, the wellness centre at the heart of the Liane Moriarty adapted book Nine Perfect Strangers, which has been made into the series of the same name, is a fascinating look at how the cult of wellness, couched in transformational language, can prey on and benefit from broken lives.
Nine Perfect Strangers does what is says in the title. Nine strangers are summoned by Masha (Nicole Kidman) to Tranquillum House. The mysterious Masha runs this idyllic resort for people “who need to die to their old lives and be reborn” as she explains to the guests on arrival. So far so many spiritual references.
Of course, each guest has come with baggage which range from a loss in the family to drug addiction and marriage issues, but it’s the unorthodox methods that Masha uses to address this baggage that propels the story, and subsequently the participants at the resort against each other and their otherworldly guide.
As guests arrive, they are told that their diets are fully tailored to them and their needs. What Masha doesn’t tell them is that she will use all sorts of methods, both psychological and pharmaceutical to address these needs.
Kidman plays Masha with an equal measure of angelic and downright scary to great effect, and her character has an equally complex backstory. From texts of death threats (perhaps from her past) to guiding participants through digging their own shallow graves to die to their former selves, this series seems to suggest that one can definitely go too far when setting people on a path to “wellness”.
Inevitably, the show explores how the past influences the present, and how transformation requires working through lingering trauma. Perhaps it’s just the methods used to work through this that give might give viewers pause.
Shot entirely in Australia near Byron Bay, the setting is lush and is in fact a character in the series. Watching the series and knowing that Moriarty’s books are all set in Australia, it does seem odd that so far, the two series that have been based on her books have been set in the US. As international bestsellers, one would think the setting wouldn’t matter, but alas the beautiful Byron Bay locale is doubling for California.
This is a small quibble, and the bravura cast works both in the resort and are guests. The likes of Melissa McCarthy, Michael Shannon, Bobby Cannavale, Luke Evans, Manny Jacinto and Regina Hall, along with a blended Australian cast that includes Asher Keddie, Samara Weaving and Zoe Terakes make this series eminently watchable.
Nine Perfect Strangers is available with an Amazon Prime streaming subscription