Lorde and Nicole Kidman Take on the Cult-ish Wellness Industry

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The Daily Beast 23 August, 2021 - 04:00am 11 views

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New episodes of Nine Perfect Strangers drop every Wednesday at 12:01AM ET. Esquire.comHow Many Episodes of 'Nine Perfect Strangers' Are on Hulu? 'Nine Perfect Strangers' Release Schedule

On Wednesday, Hulu dropped the first three episodes of its most star-studded scripted series to date, David E. Kelley’s adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s bestselling novel Nine Perfect Strangers. Directed by Jonathan Levine and co-produced by Nicole Kidman, the limited series takes place in an exclusive wellness retreat where the titular guests attempt to undergo some spiritual and physical transformation, guided by a sketchy Russian guru named Masha, played by Kidman in yet another distracting wig.

As Kevin Fallon opined in his review, the series is a tonal mishmash. Despite some performances that would otherwise attract immediate awards buzz if placed in a better show, notably from Melissa McCarthy and Michael Shannon, none of them really coalesce to create a dynamic ensemble. Nor do any of these broadly written characters or the evidently fraudulent institution warrant that much intrigue. On a marketing level, the series also faces the burden of competing with the hype of HBO’s just-concluded smash hit The White Lotus, which also portrays rich people swapping their privileged at-home lives for another privileged experience in an exotic location, and Kelley’s previous Moriarty adaptation Big Little Lies, where his pen is far more robust.

Whether or not Nine Perfect Strangers attracts the fanfare it’s clamoring for with its cast of A-listers, its presence in the zeitgeist, and wonky, cult-ish portrayal of the wellness industry, along with other new media, feels indicative of a growing exhaustion and cynicism surrounding the state of self-care and wellness, particularly the ways it’s manifested in American life just over the past few years, from social media to QAnon conspiracies to corporate advertising and, of course, the current pandemic.

Wellness—encompassing holistic practices and dubious remedies—is hardly a new phenomenon in the United States, although it feels like it’s become ubiquitous over the past decade. Since colonialism, the Western world has been importing and appropriating Eastern methods of medicine and spiritual practices that are now associated with catchall terms like “New Age,” “alternative medicine,” and even “Goop.” Self-care as a rationalization for incorporating wellness and self-improvement into our lives also has a deeper history than the average Instagram user inundated with #selfcare sponcon would be led to believe, promoted by ancient philosophers and repopularized in political environments like the women’s liberation movement of the ’70s and, specifically, queer Black feminist spaces. (This is why writer and activist Audre Lorde’s definition of the term is often referenced on the feminist sections of the internet.)

Now more than ever, these practices and their philosophies have been detached from their histories, stripped of their nuances and monetized by corporations and upper-class white people—but most visibly in pop culture, upper-class white women. In a piece for The New Yorker, Jordan Kisner writes about the “#selfcare-as-politics movement of 2016” that was ironically “powered by straight, affluent white women” in response to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and subsequent election, a moment that awakened much of that demographic politically. Likewise, the rich white woman who collects crystals, receives sound baths and is obsessed with tarot cards and, most significantly, considers herself an expert in these customs has captured our collective attention and skepticism, from Gwyneth Paltrow and her Goop empire, Kourtney Kardashian’s try at her own Goop, shows like the aforementioned Nine Perfect Strangers and Fox’s Fantasy Island (although the rich woman is Latina).

While Lorde lacks a strong rebuttal to the Gwyneth Paltrow figure—maybe because it’s too close to home— the singer’s analysis of wellness culture and its misappropriations feels sharper when aimed toward men. On the Solar Power song “Dominoes,” she lambasts the specific type of man who takes on gardening, weed, and yoga to rebrand from his toxicity and misogyny. “It must feel good to be Mr. Start Again,” she sings caustically. The song cleverly illustrates how goodness is often ascribed to men who associate themselves with activities that are deemed feminine within our culture. But it also gets at the way self-improvement can easily be utilized as a Band-Aid or a facade in place of doing the actual work.

As culture becomes more and more desperate for healing, whether from political divisions, as our president constantly suggests, or literal life-threatening diseases like COVID-19, the space between community and cult, non-traditional medicine and pseudoscience, self-care and individualism seems to be capturing our artistic imaginations at an extremely vital time. How can the roots of wellness be reclaimed and reasserted when it’s become a $4.4 trillion money grab and employed for the most dangerous political agendas? Lorde’s Solar Power and Nine Perfect Strangers may not be perfect articulations of these quandaries, but they show how much there is to mine in that danger zone.

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'Nine Perfect Strangers' Is a Mess, With or Without the Inevitable 'White Lotus' Comparisons

The Mary Sue 20 August, 2021 - 08:36pm

Hulu’s new original series Nine Perfect Strangers dropped this week with a disappointing thud. The consensus among the reviews I’ve seen is that the show is an uneven mess that did itself no favors by having its premiere fall right on the heels of HBO’s The White Lotus.

Both shows feature a group of mostly white, mostly affluent guests at an exotic locale centered around an unspecified mystery. And it is true that Nine Perfect Strangers was going to face inevitable comparisons to the HBO series and it’s definitely true that it was going to come up short in contrast.

But to be totally fair to Nine Perfect Strangers, it doesn’t need to be compared to anything else to disappoint its audience. The show is a mess all on its own.

The nine strangers in question have all arrived at a luxurious wellness retreat to treat their various issues and traumas, all of which are revealed over the first few episodes. The amount of backstory those episodes need to cover is a slog to get through and while these characters’ stories are, at face value, interesting, it is nearly impossible to actually stay interested long enough to learn them.

That’s not helped by director Jonathan Levine’s deliberately lackadaisical hand, giving the show an airy, ethereal feel. That tone is perfectly suited for Nicole Kidman’s Masha, the leader of the Tranquillum resort. Masha is a mysterious Russian cutthroat businesswoman-turned-wellness guru and the woo-wooness of Levine’s direction underscores Kidman’s unsettling fairy goddess-like performance.

As for everyone else, that’s a different story. Every character seems to inhabit a completely different world, every actor working in a different genre. And that’s a shame because the cast is stacked with talent. This show has Michael Shannon, Melissa McCarthy, Samara Weaving, Melvin Gregg, Regina Hall, Bobby Cannavale, and Luke Evans, and it manages to waste all of them.

I don’t think any of the stellar actors (or the characters they portray) were done quite as dirty as Tiffany Boone and Manny Jacinto, though. They are Delilah and Yao, Masha’s right-hand employees, tasked with shepherding the guests through their journey. There are hints of depth to the characters, as we know they are in awe of Masha and deeply dedicated to her, despite their concerns over her methods. It’s also such a delight to see Jacinto doing something so different from his role on The Good Place and to do it so well—he really does make the most of what he’s given, as do all the members of this cast.

But ultimately, the most we get in terms of a storyline for these two (at least in the first six episodes made available for review) is their entanglements in a sex/love triangle. It’s also very odd to watch these two BIPOC characters serve a mostly white, mostly affluent clientele without ever giving us any indication of how they feel about that dynamic. (It is, yes, made especially glaring in the shadow of the White Lotus discourse this week.)

As a fan of Liane Moriarty’s book, I’ve been looking forward to this adaptation, and I really wanted to like it. Given what ended up on the screen, though, that was never an option.

Nine Perfect Strangers review — this is Agatha Christie, but with smoothies and yoga mats

The Times 20 August, 2021 - 11:00am

The first thing to notice about Nine Perfect Strangers, Amazon’s latest bells-and-whistles ocean-going liner of a drama, isn’t Nicole Kidman, even if she looks a bit like a floaty-clothed Lord of the Rings elf with a massive wig and daft Raaarsian accent that wouldn’t sound out of place in Roger Moore-era James Bond. No, it’s how old-fashioned the premise is, a sort of Agatha Christie with smoothies and yoga mats.

The actress’s latest collaboration with the showrunner David E Kelley and the novelist Liane Moriarty finds her character Masha luring nine chosen folk to her Tranquillum health resort to change their lives — and, she hopes, the world — by microdosing them with

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