Nicole Kidman’s performance in Expats is being carried by her talent alone, according to reviews from expats.
I never expected to live long enough to witness Nicole Kidman become one of the least interesting actors of her time, but that’s where we are. In her recent project, Expats, she continues the trend of starring in prestigious TV shows where she glides through scenes as a privileged woman burdened by a hidden sadness that even the most luxurious decor and ocean views cannot ease.
In recent roles, she has portrayed a wealthy socialite in Monterey who becomes a victim of domestic abuse in Big Little Lies, a therapist coping with loss at a luxurious spa in Nine Perfect Strangers, and a successful psychologist in New York City who suspects her husband of murder in The Undoing. However, her character’s emerald-green coat in The Undoing has received more attention than any of her roles since her appearance in Paddington in 2014.
Lulu Wang’s latest drama Expats portrays the struggle of Margaret Woo, a landscape architect who has left her career to support her husband Clarke (played by Brian Tee) in Hong Kong. They join the elite community of wealthy expats in the highly coveted residence known as The Peak. However, as Margaret grapples with her sense of dwindling talent, she begins to question if this move was the right decision. As they say, what goes up must come down.
The story unfolds in two different time periods – before and after Margaret is haunted by her sorrow. If you are familiar with TV shows or books, it will become evident early on that this sorrow is related to the death or disappearance of a child. I can reveal that it is the latter in this case, but it is not a major spoiler.
In six episodes, Expats tells the stories and experiences of three characters who are closely connected. One of these characters is Margaret, a mother who is grieving and filled with guilt. She briefly left her son Gus under the care of Mercy, a recent graduate from Columbia who was being considered for the position of the family’s long-time nanny and “helper” (as The Peak prefers to call it). While at the night market, Mercy gets distracted by her phone as she tries to figure out how she should act during what could be an impromptu job interview. In that moment, Gus disappears.
Margaret’s neighbor and former friend, Hilary (played by Sarayu Blue), becomes entangled in the aftermath of the disappearance due to her close proximity and her husband David’s (played by Jack Huston) increasing involvement with Mercy.
This creates the perfect atmosphere for a slow-paced and possibly sleep-inducing reflection on sorrow, remorse, discrimination based on social class, greed in a capitalist society, the insincerity of the wealthy, prejudice, and the emotional and physical distance from one’s home. In fact, it covers almost all the criteria that a prestigious drama, particularly one featuring Kidman, should cover.
In the fifth episode, there is a 90-minute special where the main characters are pushed to the side and Essie and Hilary’s “helper”, Puri, takes center stage. This part plays out like an independent film, giving us a glimpse into Hong Kong life through their perspective as they meet people, go shopping, gossip, and deal with their own separations from home and family. We learn that Essie’s son wants her to retire and come back to the Philippines to live with him, his wife, and their baby son. Puri, who Hilary relies on for emotional support as her marriage falls apart, shows us the difficulties and uncertainty that domestic staff face, having to rely only on themselves.
The story takes place during a time of social turmoil. Expats is set in 2014 and in the fifth episode, we see two students involved in the “umbrella movement” to protest China’s growing control over Hong Kong. One is deeply dedicated to the cause, while his mother worries for his safety. The other prioritizes her education and opportunity to leave her impoverished family.
It continues to progress, despite its lack of coherence with previous or subsequent events. It seems more like a superficial addition to the storyline rather than an essential component. However, with the exception of the fifth episode, this is essentially all that Expats offers. It has impressive visuals and notable acting, particularly from Yoo and Blue, but it ultimately lacks originality. We have encountered similar narratives before, with or without Kidman’s involvement.