Where to Watch: Hulu
Release Date: August 18th 2021
Genre: Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy
Director: Jonathan Levine
My Rating: 6/10
IMDb Rating: 7/10
IMDb Summary: Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever? These nine perfect strangers are about to find out… Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be. Can you stand to be in a room with nine people you don’t know?
This may be old news to most of you by now, but a few months ago Hulu came out with Nine Perfect Strangers, a series based on the book by the same name by Liane Moriarty. As a well documented Moriarty fan, I was shocked to find out that this was one of the few books by her that I hadn’t read yet.
I rushed to get the book and read it so that I could watch the show in a timely manner, and I ended up being overall disappointed with what I found. I gave the book just 3 stars, the lowest of all Moriarty books that I’ve read. Already, we weren’t off to a great start. Of all the possible books they could have chosen by this author, why did it have to be this one.
I did binge watch the entire show (I don’t watch shows any other way) and really enjoyed it. I thought that independent from the book, it was a fairly entertaining limited series. I want to use this article to break down the show from a casting, accuracy to source material, and cinematography perspective.
Warning: this review will contain light spoilers for both the book and the tv show
This was an absolutely star studded cast for a Hulu TV show, and in many ways it was the strongest part of the entire series. At times the plot or structure of the show would falter, but each of these actors is so talented that their characters still felt real.
I absolutely loved the decision to cast Melissa McCarthy as Francis. She has the requisite good humor that is required to play this character in a way that felt believable and not at all forced. This particular show helped to show off a range that McCarthy herself rarely has an opportunity to showcase. She was able to show a hurt and painful side, and even got a romantic plot. This was an incredible casting decision and I think she carried the show even in its weaker moments.
Nicole Kidman as Masha was another fantastic casting choice. Masha was supposed to be beautiful and elusive and above it all, and Kidman is able to do that so artfully. Very few people are as ethereally beautiful as Kidman.
One of the things I found odd about the casting was their level of diversity. Well, odd implies that things are normally better. I guess that actually, I was disappointed in the lack of diversity in the casting. For one, they only had 3 black characters and 1 Asian character in a cast of 13 people. This level of diversity is fairly abysmal, especially when you look at what each of these characters do.
Ben was a good casting choice, and I don’t have much to say about him. However, Delilah ended up being the character to call the cops, and Carmel went insane. She was a character on the brink of violence that everyone felt they needed to be afraid of. In the books, Carmel was a sweet innocent woman who used to be a high power executive prior to having children. In the show, they made her a black woman with a tendency towards violence who used to work on Broadway. I already sort of hated this change in character, and it feels a bit coincidental that they would then cast her as a black woman. That being said, Regina Hall is a fabulous actress and truly excelled at this part.
The Plot Changes
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that 70% of this plot was changed. The retreat became overall more ominous right away than it had been, the drugging took a much more prominent role throughout the week, and Lars was there in a reporting capacity rather than attending for fun. Lars was also notably already broken up with Ray (although he did get back together with him in the epilogue) which I think was annoying and a bit homophobic, especially given the fact that in the books, the struggling couple was Ben+Jessica and somehow they were more in love in the show than they had been in the books. Homophobia. (jokes)
Honestly, the show changed a lot, keeping only the core premise of what was going on in the books, but that still made it a good tv show. My largest issue was in the way that they portrayed Masha. In the books, she was aloof, making everyone love her simply by existing and being beautiful. In the show, she was having sex with Yao, and (it was implied) Delilah. In my opinion, this overt display of sexuality undermined the power that she was given. In the book, Yao was in love with Masha and craved each touch, a fact that Masha was aware of and used to her advantage, granting well timed caresses in moments of doubt. In the show, Masha was fucking Yao blatantly, and appeared to be also somewhat in love with him. I wanted her power to be less in being good at sex, and more in having sex appeal, and I’m sad that was taken away from us.
The mystery aspect of the show was very much played up. In the books, the being locked in a room and trying to escape was a central part of the plot. Because they did away with the required silence, there had to be more of the early part of the week in order to fill the space that “no talking” had taken up in the books. This was fine and I didn’t mind any of the changes that they made. What I hated was that they threw in the part with them locked in the room and there being a fire very haphazardly at the end, as though trying to make it just slightly more similar to the book. This part fell flat and to be honest made me annoyed by the entire ending.
I’m no cinematography expert, but I did want to talk about how beautiful the scenery was. The retreat took place in a sort of forest meets cliff meets spa, and they did a great job of making this place seem magical. Due to the nature of the hallucinogens, there were many scenes where reality was mixed with imagination, and the show did a great job of showing us when things were real and when they were not, while also slightly confusing the viewer to make it seem like we were inside the world. The show was remarkably well shot, and it created a beautiful viewing experience.
Overall I enjoyed this show, but I think that was mostly because I’d read the book first. The acting was fantastic, but the plot of the show wasn’t great, and as already discussed I didn’t love the book that much. Still, if you’re looking for something to watch on Hulu it’s an entertaining use of your time.