As part of the Sundance Film Festival’s Midnight features, there are usually those rare films that make a buzz after their first showing. Polite Society has proven to become quite the crowd-pleaser after its debut, giving audiences an edgier film that goes outside the box when it comes to South Asian representation and the stories that are often shared in this community. The film comes from writer-director Nida Manzoor as her feature debut, coming off the success of her series We Are Lady Parts. From its dialogue to the impeccable musical score, Polite Society is a humorous and heartwarming flick that puts in a coming-of-age story mixed in with action and comedy.
Polite Society focuses on Ria (Priya Kansara), a young teen who aspires to become a stunt woman after taking up martial arts. With the help of her sister Lena (Ritu Arya), Ria chases her dream by putting on YouTube videos of her performing martial arts to gain recognition in the industry. Lena also dreams of becoming an artist but soon gives up her passion. Instead, she becomes the supportive sister helping Ria reach her goals. Both sisters have supported one another and always have each others’ backs in any obstacle that comes their way. Things start to change when Lena gets a marriage proposal from the handsome Salim (Akshay Khanna).
Lena decides to go out on a few dates with Salim, thinking it would be a whirlwind romance, and soon finds herself falling in love with him. Seeing what’s happening to her sister causes Ria to start getting suspicious of her soon-to-be brother-in-law as well as his overbearing mother Raheela (Nimra Bucha). Ria decides to enlist her friends Alba (Ella Bruccoleri) and Clara (Seraphina Beh) to expose Salim and his mother to stop Lena’s nuptials. Not everyone believes Ria that there’s something fishy going on with Lena’s new love, causing a rift between both sisters.
Polite Society goes to great lengths to embrace the silliness in its approach to the story, but it also has a strong emotional core at the center of it. There are a couple of times when Ria would find herself in a throwdown that seems like it would break the wall between reality and fantasy. Whether it’s a fight with a bully or her sister, we see these situations take place around Ria where destruction ensues. These action sequences can get brutal and oftentimes dangerous, but the film always makes the landing and grabs onto its comedic tone. The movie knows when it’s not serious, playing around with different genres to make it exciting to watch on screen. It takes on troupes that one might find in films like Scott Pilgrim Versus The World and even Get Out in some instances. There are going to be inspirations from earlier action films that Manzoor has taken to shoot these incredible fight sequences.
What brings this movie together is the performance of the main lead Kansara, who proves to have what it takes to be a big star. She can take on the funny aspects of her character but also finds the big emotions of Ria as she is ready to take on the world. Kansara holds up her own when it comes to the action sequences, using traditional martial arts to dazzle up the screen. She is surrounded by an amazing cast like Arya, Beh, and Bruccoleri. They all help balance the hilarity of every scene while also exploring the heartfelt bond that these characters all share. Even Bucha steals up the screen as the nefarious mother-in-law who is always at odds with Ria throughout the film. There’s so much fun to be had with all these characters, even when the film goes off the rails most of the time. The movie isn’t afraid to get dirty but also finds a way to bring it all together with a sweet and heartwarming story of family and chasing your dreams.
Polite Society has a lot going for it in terms of style and characterization. The film blends comedy and action perfectly while exploring a woman’s independence in a traditional culture that is often changing in modern society. It is a smartly written story that has female empowerment and isn’t afraid to make things seem like it’s out of reality. It’s full of energy and the music is also top-notch. Audiences will have a great time catching this one, feeling all the emotions when they leave the theater.
Polite Society will release in theaters on April 28.