First came the Italian original. Then the Greek version, a few months later. Then the Spanish, the Turkish, and dramatic adaptation at Israel’s national theater. All in all, Perfect Strangers has been remade nine times since 2016 – and many more adaptations are on the way. Paolo Genovese, who wrote and directed the first Italian movie, Perfetti Sconosciuti , estimates 15 or 16 remakes will come in total. The latest, Manolo Caro’s Mexico-set addition, Perfectos Desconocidos, hits theaters in the United States on January 11.
“Perfect Strangers is a world phenomenon and I wanted to be part of it,” Caro told Refinery29. When Caro first saw the Spanish version in 2017, he knew he was watching something special — something he could work with. “I thought, ‘Oh, this is a script I really love. I can stamp my version, and Latin American feelings, on it.”
Caro limited his Perfect Strangers intake to the Spanish and Italian versions before embarking on his own rendition. Only now, the week of his movie’s release, did he allow himself to watch the others. “Just today I saw the Chinese trailer and I was very shocked. It looked completely different. It’s a different country, and a different movie,” Caro said.
How did Perfect Strangers become the cinematic equivalent of the tattered jeans from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants – a script that fits practically every country? Think of the script as a template. Each version contains the same ingredients: Seven characters speaking at a Gilmore Girls-level speed, two rooms of a lavishly decorated apartment, and a very dangerous game. Within this rigid form is an opportunity for a director to insert aesthetic creativity and cultural specificity.
The premise is deceptively simple. On the evening of an eclipse, seven old friends gather for a dinner party. In a series of fast-paced introductory scenes, the characters adhere to archetypes. There are the newlyweds who sneak in a quickie before the party. There’s the resentful couple bickering their way through parenthood. There are the hosts, a therapist unable to connect with her husband and daughter. Then, there’s the awkwardly groomed single guy who looks out of place among his friends.
We think we know these people from the first scene, because they think they know each other. Then, the magic of Perfect Strangers begins. Once the friends are gathered around the table, comfortably settled into their roles, the hostess, Eva (played by Cecilia Suárez in the Mexican version), deviously suggests they play a game. Each person will place his or her phone on the table. For the rest of the evening, they will read each incoming message aloud and answer incoming calls on speaker.
Obviously, disaster ensues. As Eva puts it right before the game begins, “These devices have become the black boxes of our lives,” bearing possibly marriage- and friendship-ending consequences. Over the course of the evening, the secrets that everyone at the table are carrying in their back pockets – literally — are unspooled. But none of the major character reveals scattered throughout the dinner (and there are a lot) can compare to the movie’s ultimate haunting twist.
Perfect Strangers speaks to our compartmentalized lives, one eye on our shared world and the other on our private, digital screens. “The story is very close to us. All people have secrets in the cell phone, so it’s very easy to understand and feel a part of the movie or the situation. You can see yourself in one of the characters,” Caro said.
In another scenario, the Italian version of Perfect Strangers could have been subtitled and shipped around the world. That might’ve been enough. Subtitles would have communicated the movie’s unsubtle message about the secret lives in our phones to audiences worldwide. But then Perfect Strangers wouldn’t have become the global phenomenon it is. By adapting the movie’s structure to the contours of a particular country and culture, Perfect Strangers gives an individual twist to a universally applicable modern-day premise.
And it works. While watching the Greek version, Teleioi Xenoi, for the first time at a Greek film festival in New York, never once did I suspect I was watching an adaptation. Instead, I immediately assumed it was an original Greek movie, so much did the characters — from their linguistic quirks to their cultural references — remind me of my Greek friends and family in Athens and elsewhere. The same likely goes for Manolo Caro’s Mexican version, which I also recently saw. While the movie is undeniably enjoyable for an American viewer like me, Mexican audiences will pick up on elements of the group’s dynamics invisible to outsiders.
Remakes of Perfect Strangers will come to Poland, Germany, Egypt, Russia, and Sweden next, but American audiences may have to wait indefinitely for a culturally specific version of our own. In February 2017, the Weinstein Company purchased the rights to Perfect Strangers. Following Harvey Weinstein’s downfall and the shutdown of the Weinstein Company, the American remake remains in a kind of limbo, but that doesn’t mean we can’t imagine a dream cast. (Refinery29 reached out to Lantern Entertainment, the company that acquired Weinstein Films, about the status of an American adaptation of Perfect Strangers. We'll update this story if we get a response.)
“Maybe in one year we can make a festival of all the versions,” Caro suggests. We’ll be in the audience, reading subtitles.