Film Review: Polite Society
Director: Nida Manzoor
Working Title Films and Parkville Pictures
In Theaters: 04.28
People often ask me why it is that so many of us critics will complain that a particular film “doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be” while at the same time decrying a general lack of originality. It’s a fair point, and Nida Manzoor’s Polite Society is an excellent illustration of the difference between gleefully mixing genres to create something unique and simply having no sense of self.
British-Pakistani teenager Ria Khan (Priya Kansara, Bridgerton) lives in London with her parents and her older sister, Lena (Ritu Arya, Red Notice). Ria has two idols: Lena, Riya’s closest friend and an aspiring artist, and top hollywood stuntwoman Eunice Huthart. Ria wants to follow in Eunice’s footsteps, and Lena supports her sister’s dreams.
Sadly, Lena has given up on her own ambitions and dropped out of art school. Lena is talked into a date with successful geneticist Salim (Akshay Khanna, Chloe). When Lena and Salim hit it off and Priya fears a possible marriage between the two, Priya’s colorful imagination sees trouble. She sets out to free her sister from dangerous clutches of matrimony and an action battle begins in the name of female empowerment.
Polite Society is a clever genre bender that combines gender politics, romance and kick-ass action. It plays out as a parody of martial arts films, with elaborate fights breaking out in the most unlikely of settings and over-the-top twists and turns. Writer/director Nida Manzoor (We Are Lady Parts) never tips her hand as to whether we’re watching the story as it’s actually happening or whether the entire movie is filtered through our protagonist’s daydreaming imagination. Being left to decide ourselves is so much more entertaining. Manzoor pulls from the tricks and tropes of the action genre, and her shot selection and perfect pacing suggest that she’s watched a lot of these reference films.
Kansara and Arya are both great comic talents with the potential for stardom, and the sisterly bond between them is perfectly captured in their charming performances. Nimra Bucha (Ms. Marvel), who plays Salim’s scheming mother, Raheela, makes for such a hilarious mix of camp and genuine menace that she nearly steals the film. Seraphina Beh, Ella Bruccoleri and Shona Babayemi are endearing and amusing as Priya’s schoolmates, Clara, Alba and Kovacs, respectively, and the entire cast seems to be having a blast making this movie.
Polite Society knows exactly what it wants to be and has both the courage to break molds and a director with the skill and vision to cast new ones. It’s destined to be a cult favorite for many years to come, and I recommend jumping on the chance to say, “I was a fan from the beginning.” –Patrick Gibbs
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