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Nicole Kidman is known for interesting film roles, so why is her TV work so disappointing?

  • From Big Little Lies to The Undoing to Nine Perfect Strangers, "it’s increasingly hard not to notice the disjunct between the productive openness that drives Kidman the film actor and the cautious awards-baiting (and diminishing returns) that define Kidman the TV star," says Inkoo Kang. On the big screen, Kang says, Kidman's directors have been a "'who’s who' of boldface-named filmmakers: Stanley Kubrick, Nora Ephron, Anthony Minghella, Aaron Sorkin, Gus Van Sant, Lee Daniels, Jane Campion, Noah Baumbach, Sofia Coppola, Werner Herzog, Park Chan-wook, Yorgos Lanthimos and Lars von Trier. It’s tempting, then, to attribute the stultifying homogeneity of Kidman’s more recent TV roles to her sudden timidity regarding her collaborators. Creator David E. Kelley’s Big Little Lies marked a turning point in Kidman’s genre-agnostic, typecast-resistant trajectory. As Celeste, the patrician wife of a charming but violent husband (played by Alexander Skarsgard) and mother to two small boys, Kidman revealed layer after layer of fragility, terror and repression, as her character came to terms with the physical abuse she’d tried for years to excuse and the grim possibility of her sons learning to normalize their father’s roughness with their mother. It was a showstopping performance, especially in Kidman’s therapy scenes with Robin Weigert, as well as an Emmy-deserving turn. Disappointingly, Kidman followed up with another Kelley series, The Undoing, in which she hardly stretched as the patrician wife of a charming but violent husband (this time played by Hugh Grant) and mother to a young son. Though The Undoing was a ratings hit for HBO, its creative failures are reflected in the lack of Emmy nominations for both Kidman and the miniseries itself, though Grant did receive a nod for his role as a slippery megalomaniac. While the true nature of Kidman’s spiritual teacher, Masha, on Kelley and John Henry Butterworth’s Nine Perfect Strangers is initially withheld, the more details we learn about her, the less she appears the exotic rare bird that’s initially suggested and more the familiar blend of affluence, violence, self-suppression and threatened motherhood...Kidman may well love collaborating with Kelley, and these recurring themes and milieus just might be the ones that speak most to her. But her current doldrums do feel like a waste of her chameleonic talents, as well as of her star power to get approved under-the-radar projects that don’t already have a TV legend’s name attached. And if she regrets the decline in reputation that her all-over-the-place approach got her — she currently has nine films with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 30 percent or less — the prudence doesn’t seem to be doing her any favors, either. But it also feels uncharitable to solely blame Kidman and Kelley when misfires like The Undoing and Nine Perfect Strangers reflect not just individual artists’ choices, but the calcifying tropes of 'prestige TV.'"


    • Nine Perfect Strangers is the latest show where Nicole Kidman takes a big swing that ends up being disappointing: The Hulu series' stars "are all acting as if they are in entirely different series," says Kevin Fallon. "Then there’s Kidman, floating through the series with her cryochamber chic aesthetic. It’s phenomenal not just how often Kidman works, but how big of a swing each performance is. It’s also disappointing how often, lately, a study of her work is reduced to yet another outlandish wig and uneven accent. There’s no denying her Masha is captivating by nature—this is Nicole Kidman holding your attention on screen, after all—but nothing about the character is as enrapturing as the presence she fortifies. What is Masha hiding? The story is so underwritten that no amount of Kidman’s signature eye-twitch acting could hypnotize you into caring."
    • Nine Perfect Strangers is an entry in the emerging genre of wellness horror: The Hulu limited series is about "a group of wealthy, miserable people who are paying silly amounts of money to feel better about themselves ends up instead in a spa-weekend version of Dante’s Inferno," says Sophie Gilbert. "The recent HBO show The White Lotus took a ruthlessly sociological approach to the model, skewering the toxic privilege of a group of vacationers in Hawaii like sharks in a barrel. The 2017 Gore Verbinski cult film A Cure for Wellness imagined an overworked Wall Streeter going missing at a mysterious Swiss health resort plagued by secrets and lots and lots of eels. In Nine Perfect Strangers, some varyingly troubled individuals arrive at a California retreat led by a spiritual healer whose intentions are as spotty as her Russian accent. Nicole Kidman’s Masha, a cursed Barbie doll in a diaphanous wig and last year’s prairie dresses, blinks furiously as she presides over the ritualistic excavation of people’s pain. There are sweat lodges and hot springs and trust exercises and primal screaming. There are revelations. There is definitely something a bit off about the smoothies. The topic of wellness has never been more urgent, more fraught, or more subject to exploitation by unscrupulous 'healers.' But the show doesn’t seem to know what it wants to say about it."
    • Melissa McCarthy steals the show from Kidman: "Most engagingly, there is Melissa McCarthy, sweeping all before her as charismatic, bestselling author Frances, who has recently been dealt harsh blows and is here to have pampered time to recover," says Lucy Mangan. "As is so often the case with the magnificent McCarthy, she is the best, most arresting thing in the series, and every time she comes back on screen you wriggle with delight. It is Kidman, of course, who is supposed to be the big draw. It was obvious as soon as Nine Perfect Strangers was published in 2018 that even though (for my money) it was not peak Moriarty – lacking her usual realism, tight focus and acute psychological insight – it would be the next picked up as a Kidman project. The part of Masha is catnip. But with a wobbly accent and an ice-blond wig better suited to a child’s Frozen-themed birthday party, she relies on little more than her height and preternatural thinness to conjure Masha’s magnetism and crucial authoritative power."
    • Does Kidman have a real voice?: "It’s Masha’s accent that provides the most mystery in those opening moments" of Nine Perfect Strangers, says Emily Alford. "Are we supposed to believe she’s really Russian? Because if so, that just ain’t it. I’m no linguist, but her affect may be best described as 'this person watched Boris and Natasha, then had a Xanax.' The only thing that could be said for this accent is that it’s much different from Kidman’s own. Or is it? Because what I realized while trying to remember what Nicole Kidman’s voice sounds like is that I actually have no f*cking clue. For me, her 'real' voice is closest to the one she used to play Suzanne Stone in To Die For: In the 1995 mockumentary Stone is a newscaster wannabe complete with (again, not a linguist) an accent I can only describe as 'American blonde woman who thinks highly of herself.' But then there’s also her voice in Big Little Lies, a lower, dulcet one that I can only describe as "American blonde woman whose Tuesday afternoon daywear cost the same as my paycheck.' She is more consciously careful of not sounding Australian in this iteration, but that pensiveness also reads to me as the fact that rich people are used to people waiting on them to finish their sentences and therefore are in no rush."
    • Nine Perfect Strangers is a mess on its own -- it doesn't need The White Lotus comparisons
    • Manny Jacinto agreed to do Nine Perfect Strangers, a polar opposite role from The Good Place, because he didn't want to be put in a box: “I do think that Hollywood has a tendency to put people in boxes, and I don’t want to just be one thing," he says. "I didn’t want to go into acting and do all this as a career just to play one not."

    TOPICS: Nicole Kidman, Hulu, Big Little Lies, Nine Perfect Strangers, The Undoing, David E. Kelley, Manny Jacinto, Melissa McCarthy