This assessment accommodates minor spoilers for the primary six episodes of 9 Excellent Strangers.
9 Excellent Strangers is a sophisticated tackle wellness tradition that’s much less “eat the wealthy” than “cross the Kool-Assist”. Tailored from Liane Moriarty’s bestselling 2018 novel, it takes place at a secretive, high-end wellness retreat known as Tranquillum, an on-trend Scandi dream of naked gentle wooden and open areas overseen by a mysterious Russian lady, Masha (Nicole Kidman).
9 folks — a grieving household, a pair on the rocks, and 4 people in disaster — have signed up for a ten-day plunge into self-actualisation. As Masha and the employees gleefully inform each other, the group is unstable. By midway via the season, bets are on as to who’s going to utterly lose it, and the way a lot injury they will do.
Because the dreamy, psychedelic title sequence suggests, Masha’s model of therapeutic apply could also be rather less standard than the visitors have anticipated. Tranquillum’s invasive strategies are barely masked by the tender voices and benign smiles of the employees. Behind the scenes, conflicts are getting out of hand.
Masha’s background can also be murky. She brings the identical ruthlessness to her position as wellness guru as she did her prior life as a CEO, earlier than a life altering expertise took her from boardroom to yoga studio.
As she ups her surveillance of the visitors and her idiosyncratic therapeutic “protocols”, her motivations and sense of ethics are opaque. We all know there was tragedy on the retreat earlier than, however for her, the promise of 9 cathartic breakthroughs – 9 modified lives – justifies the ethically doubtful and doubtless unlawful means.
She’s additionally being threatened; Tranquillum just isn’t so secure.
Suspense, and dramedy
As in producer David E. Kelley’s different collaborations with Kidman, Huge Little Lies (2017-19) and The Undoing (2020), the digital camera steadily lingers on Kidman’s uncanny face, emphasising moments of emotional depth. She’s intense and willowy, Galadriel by means of Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s practically not possible to belief or learn her.
These narrative strains present a way of mounting suspense, however the collection’ mysteries are actually window dressing. They’re in the end secondary to a really conventional character dramedy that wishes to have issues each methods.
9 Excellent Strangers opens with overt suspicion of the commodification of wellness, current in each the (well-founded!) considerations of the characters and the framing of the retreat itself. Tranquillum affords the type of bougie, self-indulgent therapeutic expertise solely the navel-gazing, super-rich should buy.
Advertising and marketing, not medication: Gwyneth Paltrow’s The Goop Lab whitewashes conventional well being therapies for revenue
However this preliminary satirical impulse is only a hook; there’s little critique current. As a substitute, because the present progresses, every determined character embraces the method and addresses their injury.
There’s an uncomfortable sense that the over-priced, therapeutic mannequin which distils trauma into bon mots, timetabling catharsis and manipulating its topics, won’t be a foul factor.
The present’s aesthetic heightens because the doorways of notion open. Director Jonathan Levine affords luscious close-up sequences of fruit being macerated and blitzed for every day smoothies, capturing a twin sense of sensuality and latent risk. Pictures begin to distort, colors intensify, and the digital camera roams woozily. Modifying ably charts rising alliances, catching fleeting glances and moments of candour.
Though the present is ready within the US, the Australian location — which is wealthy with bamboo, fowl of paradise flowers and banyan bushes — offers a way we’re someplace exterior of the “actual” world.
The dialogue is intelligent and infrequently humorous – eminently quotable. As relationships develop, and the retreat intensifies, the distinctive ensemble forged shines. The visitors, who’ve been rigorously chosen by Masha, are there to heal one another as effectively.
They share pointed intimate conversations whereas lazing on pool toys or sitting in swinging bowers surrounded by outside lamps. Every performer balances groundedness and vulnerability, at the same time as their characters loosen their grip on actuality.
The present cares about its characters (largely), even because it places them via the wringer, though it’s exhausting to really feel sorry for a lottery winner whose wealth has led to existential boredom (Melvin Gregg).
Bestselling creator Frances (Melissa McCarthy) is a bundle of disgrace and self-recrimination who strikes up an alliance with Tony (Bobby Cannavale), an abrasive burnout.
Grieving mom Heather (Asher Keddie) swings from despair to dreamy elation, as her husband Napoleon (Michael Shannon) loses grip of his happy-go-lucky exterior and succumbs to his ache. Their daughter Zoe (Grace Van Patten) celebrates her twenty first birthday, supported by the visitors however haunted by the loss of life of her twin brother.
Lars (Luke Evans) is a prickly management freak with a hidden agenda. Samara Weaving offers a very stunning, brittle efficiency as a candy wealthy woman whose Instagram-perfect exterior hides excessive misery. Carmel (Regina Corridor) is a lady on the sting, straying very near a “loopy black lady” trope.
‘Possibly I’m hole’
As Lars pronounces, “a lot self-loathing, so little time”. However does the “nudge, nudge” self-awareness of the present make up for its standard, reductive view of trauma?
Frances confesses her best-selling novels are gimmicky: they’re “shallow takes on regardless of the flavour of the second is, and I shove some romance into it – they’re hole”, ending with “perhaps I’m hole”.
After certainly one of Masha’s speeches, one other character asks “what did that imply? It sounded prefer it had which means”.
In distinction to the excoriating satirical tackle wealth and tedium current in tv collection The White Lotus, it’s exhausting to not see such feedback as a get out of jail free card.
9 Excellent Strangers is well-shot, entertaining and greater than just a little pulpy, however for those who’re trying to find enlightenment then it could pay to look elsewhere.
Freud, Nietzsche, Paglia, Fanon: our professional information to the books of The White Lotus
9 Excellent Strangers shall be streaming on Amazon Prime in Australia and New Zealand from this Friday.
Erin Harrington doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that will profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.