We Live in a ‘Polite Society’

Knockout teen comedy breaks away from the festival circuit

There’s crowd pleasers and then there’s Polite Society, which I’ll categorize as a crowd puncher. You are going to like this movie even if it has to pulverize you to get you there. It delighted at Sundance and SXSW. Now, it’s here for sweet satisfaction.

POLITE SOCIETY  ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: Nida Manzoor
Written by: Nida Manzoor
Starring: Priya Kansara, Ritu Arya, Renu Brindle, Nimra Bucha
Running time: 104 min

Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) is your typical all-girls private school student in the UK except for the fact she believes she has a special destiny: to become a martial arts-powered Hollywood stunt woman. She films herself training with her sister Lena (Ritu Arya) and uploads the videos to YouTube in hopes of catching the attention of her hero, a professional stunt woman. Ria just wants validation that she’s on the right path, and she mostly gets that support from her sister. That is, until Lena gets swept off her feet by the rich son of Raheela (Nimra Bucha) the head of the local British-Pakistani social club, who actively wants to marry him off.

This sets off panic in Ria, who idolizes her punk art school sister she thinks could never fall for such a mama’s boy. Ria sets out with her friends to sabotage Lena’s relationship via cheap disguises and some light breaking-and-entering. This guy seems too perfect. Something must be hiding under the surface, and Ria’s going to get to the bottom of it no matter what.

Polite Society gets its charm from a number of clear inspirations. Writer-director Nida Manzoor punctuates all this with the style and fight choreography of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It marries together the cultural incisiveness of Ms. Marvel with the pluck and optimism of Bend it Like Beckham. And to bring it all back down to earth there’s some of the precocious assholery of Rushmore. No spoilers, but there’s also some Get Out in there as well.

Some of Ria’s antics honestly wear thin by the last act, but Kansara (Bridgerton) keeps you rooting for her through terrific character work by her and the actresses who portray her best friends, Seraphina Beh (EastEnders) and Ella Bruccoleri (Extraordinary). Their strong friendship and readiness to wreak havoc together is very endearing. It’s all pretty punk in a sort of twee way.

The film also wouldn’t be the same without the edge that Arya (Umbrella Academy) brings to the role of Lena as well as Bucha’s (Ms. Marvel) sinister take on the potentially evil matriarch driving a wedge between Lena and Ria.

Manzoor pulls it together into a feel-good story of the power of perseverance and sisterhood. It’s silly, witty, and makes great use of the eye-popping beauty of Pakistani tradition and dress.

Only the strongest of the strong can withstand the flying spin-kick this film wields to knock smiles onto moviegoers’ faces.


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Pablo Gallaga

Pablo Gallaga is a former video blogger and recapper for Television Without Pity (RIP). You can probably find him at an Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. He will thwart your alien invasion by uploading a rudimentary computer virus to your mothership using a 1996 Apple Powerbook and no Wi-Fi.

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