“Expats” Movie Review, Live Streaming & Download

Expats 2024 (via Primetweets)

“People like me…. Are they ever forgiven?” 

Much like writer-director Lulu Wang’s deeply personal feature debut, “The Farewell,” her follow-up for Prime Video, “Expats,” grapples with the intersection of grief, womanhood, and geographic displacement—what it’s like to feel loss so far away from home. This time, it’s in the form of a sprawling, gargantuan series that spans six episodes and six and a half hours of weeping, unrelenting grief. It’s a powerful but harrowing watch, an exercise in prestige-drama misery that’s best absorbed in small doses.

Set in a small community of affluent expats living in Hong Kong in 2014 (like the source material, Yasmin Y.K. Lee’s 2016 novel “Expatriates”), “Expats” branches its narrative along the impact of an apocalyptic family tragedy and the three women whose lives change the most as a result. Architect-turned-housewife Margaret (Nicole Kidman) is haunted by the year-long disappearance of her youngest boy, going about her days in a fog while she searches for any clue her child is alive. Her good friend and neighbor, Hilary (Sarayu Blue), an Indian-American expat, grapples with her flagging marriage to her husband (Jack Huston) amid infidelity and infertility. Then there’s Mercy (Ji-young Yoo), a Korean-American twentysomething working odd jobs in Hong Kong whose impulsive decisions lead to tragedy for both Margaret and Hilary.

Wang hides the specificities of that tragedy from us in the show’s first two episodes: picking up a year after the incident, all we know is hidden in Kidman’s dazed, autopilot shuffling through her life, the panic she feels when she thinks she sees a familiar face amid a group of identically-dressed caterers. The pall that falls over her husband’s (Brian Tee) birthday celebration, knowing it’s also the anniversary of their boy’s disappearance. It’s not till the end of episode 2—a flashback to the day in question—that we see exactly what happened and why Mercy may feel responsible.

While “The Farewell” leavened such heavy circumstances with a deep well of charming humor, there’s little of that to be found in “Expats.” Each of the main characters feels the weight of the world on their shoulders, compounded by the twin expectations of wealth and womanhood. Margaret is too dazed and obsessed with her loss to be a good mother to her children; Hilary’s quest to pursue a life of childless independence creates a wall between her and her husband. Young Mercy is still a child herself, still trying to figure out who she is and what she wants. She’s starved for purpose and wracked with guilt over what she’s done. 

It’s a trio of heartbreaking performances, led by Kidman, who imbues Margaret with the kind of glassy brittleness she’s long known for. Her Margaret shares a lot of DNA with Grace from “The Others” — a buttoned-up woman barely able to keep her grief from spilling out through her face. Her son’s disappearance has broken her, perhaps in irreparable ways. As good as Kidman is, though, “Expats” greatest surprises come with Blue’s acerbic, cynical turn as Hilary—a complicated, confrontational woman bristling against the familial expectations of Indian culture—and Yoo’s free-spirited, flighty Mercy. Kidman’s mastery of the form is well-documented, but “Expats” offers tremendous platforms for these two actresses: a stalwart supporting player for years and a fresh breakout star in the making.

But what sets “Expats” apart from the dozen other prestige streaming dramas about grief (seriously, throw a rock) is its deep well of cultural specificity, and the sensitivity with which Wang presents it. Director of Photography Anna Franquesa-Solano’s probing, curious lens captures both the working-class vibrancy of Hong Kong’s night markets and the cold, alienating modernism of the affluent expats. It’s a world of fancy parties and tight-knit rich folks, all navigating their Western guilt over the maids, cooks, and babysitters (whom Hilary euphemistically calls “helpers”) they hire to subsidize their lives of avarice. Fancy dinner parties clash with the budding pro-democracy protests of the Umbrella Movement, first seen only through TV reports then, through Mercy’s fling with a Korean girl, in living, dangerous color. 

That divide between the haves and have-nots is never more clearly articulated than in “Expats”’ fifth episode, a 96-minute detour into the lives of the servants we’ve seen largely in the background. Mostly Filipino, the domestic workers we see in the margins finally get to shine, as they spend their day off gossiping and pursuing their own interests. “We know everything about these people, things their closest friends don’t even know,” says one. 

This focus makes sense: they’re expatriates, too, after all. Margaret’s nanny Essie (Ruby Ruiz) is a woman torn between her loyalty to her grieving employers and her family back in the Philippines urging her to retire and come back home. Hilary’s “helper” Puri (a radiant Amelyn Pardenilla) finds herself performing emotional labor for her employer in the wake of her crumbling marriage. Honestly, the rest of the show feels like gilding the lily; “Expats” could have just been this, a feature-length film about these working-class women and the thin line between family member and employee they must walk.

Powerful as the show can be, at six hours, the slow-burn pace and tonal bleakness can take their toll if you’re binging this all at once. “Expats” is best experienced in the week-to-week cadence in which Amazon plans to roll this out. It’s a thorny, complicated, heavy story, carrying vast possibilities but promising no firm ground on which to center yourself. In other words, the liminal space of the expatriate.

All episodes screened for review. “Expats” streams on Prime Video starting January 26.

Expats movie poster

Expats (2024)


Nicole Kidmanas Margaret

Sarayu Blueas Hilary

Ji-young Yooas Mercy

Brian Teeas Clarke

Jack Hustonas David


  • Lulu Wang


  • Lulu Wang

“Expats” Movie Review, Live Streaming & Download Movie Review, Live Streaming & Download


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