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‘Polite Society’ review – break it like Bruce Lee

‘Polite Society’ review – break it like Bruce Lee
Priya Kansara stars as Ria Khan and Ritu Arya as her sister Lena in Nida Manzoor’s 'Polite Society'. (Photo: Parisa Taghizadeh / © 2023 Focus Features LLC)

Need some more absurd action comedy in your life? ‘Polite Society’ is a story of sisterly hardship and bonding mixed in with a few kung fu showstoppers and a charming sense of humour.

There is no better way to prove one’s love for their sibling than to ruin their wedding and save them from an unspoken evil.

At least, that’s what sisterly love is, according to the new cinema release Polite Society. Reflecting that unusual take, the film includes karate-chopping enemies, breaking into buildings and performing antics that would make anyone question your sanity. All of which amounts to a fun time at the movies. 

Polite Society is the feature film directorial debut of British filmmaker Nida Manzoor, the creator of the comedy show We Are Lady Parts and director of a handful of Doctor Who episodes. Manzoor’s first big-screen effort tells the story of close-knit British-Pakistani sisters Ria (played by Priya Kansara) and Lena (Umbrella Academy’s Ritu Arya). Constantly refining her martial arts skills, Ria has her heart set on becoming a stuntwoman. Meanwhile, Lena has settled into being an art school dropout, with her and Ria’s parents lamenting their daughters’ unconventional aspirations and resignations.

Then Lena discovers the supposed love of her life in the form of Salim, a dashing young man whose love for Lena is rivalled only by his love for his mother Raheela (Ms Marvel’s Nimra Bucha). Both families are ecstatic once Salim pops the question and the wedding wheels are set in motion. All except for Ria, who fears losing her sister, and watching Lena lose sight of her professional ambitions. It’s up to Ria to stop the wedding, especially as she begins to suspect there’s more to Salim and his intimidating mother than meets the eye.

Priya Kansara as Ria Khan and Ritu Arya as her sister Lena in ‘Polite Society’. (Photo: Saima Khalid / © 2023 Focus Features LLC)

With Manzoor also producing and writing Polite Society, the film feels like it’s a passion project for everyone involved. Though it spotlights its London location when necessary, the overall production is small and intimate, telling a story of two sisters struggling to overcome obstacles in their relationship. 

That being said, absurdity is the priority here. The film offers a very straightforward narrative and is disinterested in emotional elements. The two leads have their babbling blowout moments, but there’s less emphasis on credible drama and more on theatrics, with the comedy directly tied to the action. Ria responds to her sister getting married in the most over-the-top and exaggerated way possible, enlisting her schoolmates to engage in a campaign to discredit Lena’s fiancé.

The theatrics never let up, to the point that the story refuses to tip its hand in any direction. Though secrets about Ria’s future family-in-law are revealed, you’re always wondering what’s going to happen next. During the film’s first half, you’re even unsure if the secrets Ria is uncovering are real or just confirmation bias feeding off her paranoia.

Nimra Bucha as Raheela and Priya Kansara as Ria Khan. (Photo: Parisa Taghizadeh / © 2023 Focus Features LLC)

Polite Society review

Priya Kansara stars as Ria Khan in ‘Polite Society. (Photo: Parisa Taghizadeh / © 2023 Focus Features LLC)

There are delicious, scene-stealing performances on display throughout Polite Society. Priya Kansara’s facial expressions alone are deserving of an Oscar nomination while Ritu Arya brings the cool contempt that she refined in The Umbrella Academy. But the standout among these standouts is Nimra Bucha, who clearly decided to channel Rita Repulsa from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and, as a result, leans fully into being the villain that Ria believes her to be.

Manzoor is a steady hand behind the camera. Literally. Despite featuring prominently, the film’s fight scenes don’t demonstrate the most complex or memorable choreography – and can be accused of being too simple. This is especially true towards the end of the film, where there’s an attempt to combine emotion and action beats. The result is a conclusion that falls far short of the epic finale it could have delivered. However, the tone is consistent throughout and the pacing, sustained by a sense of fluidity in the cinematography, means you’re never thrown around the room as the characters are. Polite Society is easy viewing. Surprisingly wholesome family viewing. Even with all the backflips and uppercuts.

Polite Society doesn’t reinvent anything. Then again, it never seems to have that grand cinematic intention. Instead, it shows off reasonable ambitions and a sense of frivolity that borders on the ridiculous (the fun kind). The result is a story of sisterly hardship and bonding mixed in with a few kung fu showstoppers and a charming sense of humour. And that kind of idiosyncratic popcorn entertainment is welcome. DM/ML

This story was first published on Polite Society is in South African cinemas now.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • R S says:

    Watched this and was very excited. Not going to lie but I left the cinema a bit disappointed. It was fun and worth the watch, but ultimately there were things that made it feel like an ambitious student film with a reasonable budget.

    There were two things that really stood out for me. Firstly, they really needed to improve the fight choreography and secondly, the emotional arc and story in the final act needed some work (and I don’t mean moving away from the absurdity as the film draws to a close) for this to go from fun Friday night to something truly great. Also, they should have shot some of the slo-mo shots on a higher frame rate camera and then slowed it down so that the “payoff” shots didn’t look an absolute mess.

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