Expats - Photo Prime Video
“Expats” / Photo Prime Video

Writer/director Lulu Wang first captivated audiences with “The Farewell” (2019) about a Chinese-American woman returning to Hong Kong to visit her terminally ill grandmother. With “Expats,” she has adapted Janice Y.K. Lee’s 2016 novel “The Expatriates,” exploring motherhood, grief, friendship and resilience.

Set in the summer/fall of 2014, “Expats” follows three expat American women: Margaret Woo (Nicole Kidman), Hilary Starr (Sarayu Blue) and Mercy Kim (Ji-young Yoo) whose lives become inexorably interconnected through trauma and tragedy.

Mother of three young children, Margaret is a landscape architect who abandoned her career to move from New York to Hong Kong when her husband, Clarke Woo (Brian Tee), got a lucrative job opportunity. As the series opens, she’s distraught because her youngest son Gus (Connor J. Gillman) is missing.

Providing a guilt-riddled voiceover prologue, 24-year-old Korean-American Mercy, a Columbia University postgrad,  was supposed to be watching Gus the evening he mysteriously disappeared in a crowded, neon-lit marketplace.

Meanwhile, India-born Hilary surfaces as Margaret’s childless neighbor/friend whose marriage to smarmy, philandering David (Jack Houston) is unraveling as part of their mid-life ‘fertility’ crisis.

Hovering around the kaleidoscopic periphery are the Filipina/Indonesian domestic workers: Margaret’s live-in nanny/housekeeper Essie (Ruby Ruiz) and Hilary’s helper Puri (Amelyn Pardenilla). They take care of all the housekeeping and babysitting for US$500 a month!

Plus, there are two university students, Charly (Bonde Sham) and Tony (Will Or) — active in Hong-Kong’s pro-democracy effort known as the Umbrella Movement — in which protestors occupied major roadways and landmarks, using umbrellas to protect themselves from the police’s pepper spray and tear gas.

Beijing-born director Lulu Wang led an all-female writers’ room, interweaving and detailing each woman’s melodramatic anguish as she unburdens herself, delving deeply into family dynamics as she reveals her loneliness and shameful secrets.

Clarifying the context and complexity of class division, Wang notes that wealthy, upwardly mobile expats live extravagant, privileged lives, sheltered from the impact of political changes in Hong Kong – but they are not immune to tragedy.  

“I had hoped for a specific event, an unimaginable act of kindness, a forgiveness that would reset everything,” narrator Mercy concludes. “But there is no miracle that can reset everything. You must hold the pain and keep on living…”

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Expats” is a compassionate, sorrowful, slowly paced 7 – with all six episodes streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Nyad - Photo Netflix
“Nyad” / Photo Netflix

Is the name Diana Nyad familiar to you? As embodied by Annette Bening in the new biopic “Nyad,” she’s the long-distance open-water swimmer who retired from her athletic career on her 30th birthday, only to decide – at age 60 – to swim 111 miles from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida. 

The longest open-ocean swim in history, that murky marathon would take her through turbulent, shark-filled waters, battling swarms of venomous box jellyfish, whose  three-foot-long tentacles sting with  fiery, electric shock.  Her perseverance is awe-inspiring.

Filmed by underwater photographer Pete Zuccarini over a period of about two months in 2022, Bening’s performance required her to spend three to eight hours a day in a 233’ x 233’ tank off the coast off the Dominican Republic. Previously, she’d devoted a year to training with former U.S. Olympic swimmer Rada Owen.

Adapted by screenwriter Julia Cox from Nyad’s memoir “Find a Way” and directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, the husband-and-wife team best known for their Oscar-winning rock-climbing documentary “Free Solo” (2018), the film also chronicles the relationship between feisty Nyad and her best-friend/reluctant coach Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster).

“I’m not done,” Nyad defiantly insists as they play a ferociously competitive game of ping-pong, “I have more in me.” Besides, her mythic namesakes/ancestors were the nymphs who swam in the lakes, rivers and oceans to protect them from the gods.

Short-tempered, self-centered and tactless, Diana Nyad demanded as much from Stoll and her crew as she did from herself, particularly her navigator (Rhys Ifans).

An obvious Best Actress Oscar-contender, Annette Bening delivers a bravura performance as the cranky, complex competitor. A four-time Academy Award honoree, Bening was previously nominated for “The Grifters,” “American Beauty,” “Being Julia,” and “The Kids Are All Right,”

In the Supporting Actress Oscar category, Jodie Foster captures not only the ambivalence but also the physicality of Nyad’s former lover-now-trainer; it’s also Foster’s first role as an openly gay woman.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Nyad” is an agonizing, inspirational, exhausting 8, streaming on Netflix.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.