Synopsis: Ria Khan believes she must save her older sister Lena from her impending marriage. After enlisting her friends’ help, she attempts to pull off the most ambitious wedding heists in the name of independence and sisterhood.
Stars: Priya Kansara, Ritu Arya, Shobu Kapoor, Ella Bruccoleri, Seraphina Beh, Shona Babayemi, Nimra Bucha, Jeff Mirza, Akshay Khanna
Director: Nida Manzoor
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Mesdames and Messieurs, your attention, please. We have an audience-pleasing banger on our hands, and it’s not even summer yet. A clash between the refined snooty toots of the Bridgerton set, and the high-kicking, fast-paced zing of an undiscovered VHS Bollywood actioner, a breath of fresh air never smelled so confidently fragrant. Indeed, Polite Society comes roarin’ into theaters off a much-talked-about premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and a rapturous reception at the 42nd Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. If you’re even the slightest bit interested in seeing the film, make sure to avoid the trailers like the plague; marketing for this one gives an incredible amount of footage away – I mention this immediately because even if you read no further, make sure to skip the trailer and any footage you come across.
Now that you have my warning, we can get down to business and discuss Nida Manzoor’s action comedy built on feminist principles but not relying on them to lead their narrative. Manzoor gained notoriety in 2021 with her Peacock TV Series We Are Lady Parts, a sitcom following a punk rock band in Britain made up of all Muslim women. Highly awarded in its native country, its short run got a lot of attention for its creator, and soon after, Manzoor was hard at work bringing Polite Society to the screen. Several film festivals runs later, the movie is released to the general public, and I’ll be interested to see how it fares among other films that don’t provide a quarter of the brains or entertainment.
Intent on becoming stuntwoman like her idol, Eunice Huthart (played in voiceover by the real person), Ria (Priya Kansara) doesn’t recognize just how far into a depressive funk her sister Lena (Ritu Arya, Last Christmas) has fallen. Dropping out of art school and wiling away her time at home in the house both sisters share with their parents, Lena’s so far gone that she’s eating an entire rotisserie chicken on the street in full view of her parent’s friends. Though Ria is otherwise occupied with her friends Clara (Seraphina Beh) and Alba (Ella Bruccoleri), it’s only after the family is invited out to an Eid celebration at the home of Rahela (Nimra Bucha) and her handsome son Salim (Akshay Khanna) that she begins to pay attention to the changes in her family dynamic.
Picking up on the odd behavior of Rahela and Salim, Ria assumes Lena will also write them off as bad news and thinks nothing more of it. However, Lena has been swept off her feet by Salim and soon finds herself engaged to the eligible bachelor. Actually, he’s only eligible because his young wife died under mysterious (but natural) circumstances…a factoid Ria can’t seem to forget about. Working with her BFFs, she hatches a plan first to split up her sister and potential future brother-in-law. Eventually, she concocts a plot to abduct her sibling at a lavish wedding celebration before it’s too late. She couldn’t be tapping into her wild imagination, could she? Salim and his mother offer reasonable explanations for their weird ways, or so it seems. Respected members of the “polite society,” neither would do anything to risk their positions in the community. Then again, mothers can be so protective of their sons…
In fairness, Manzoor’s film takes a few laps to get going. Surviving early on by the strength of Kansara’s ability to convey the right amount of non-annoying determination to pursue her chosen career and eventually the sheer gumption she uses to save her sister, Polite Society requires a bit of effort to settle in. Once it does, it connects in a big way. The fight sequences are bold and unique, and its rich color palette allows the actors and the scenery to pop. (Not that I could always see it. Once again, I was stuck at an AMC that refused to turn its bulbs up or replace them outright, so much of the movie was barely visible).
Apart from Kansara, the actors playing her friends were nicely matched comic foils. Both have faces that lend themselves well to sizable comedic reactions, especially Bruccoleri. The casting, in general, was strong, with even the most minor roles utilizing actors I wanted to know more about, even if they were just popping in to buy an apple from a shop where the leads were getting groceries. Snagging the juiciest role is Bucha as a menacing figure who enters the sisters’ lives and doesn’t plan on going anywhere once she arrives. It’s an intense showcase, but the actress handles herself nicely, never quite showing her cards as to what she may have up her sleeve.
What a great time to go to the theater and see a movie like Polite Society with a large audience! The screening I attended was packed and nicely participatory throughout; you could feel the energy of viewers engaging with the material and the characters. That’s why there were random applause breaks throughout and at the end. While we’re known to be quite kind in MN, we don’t automatically dole out applause or standing ovations unless it warrants it. I’d strongly suggest catching this one at a theater near you. It’s fast, funny, and speaks volumes about this next generation of filmmakers with influential voices to keep amplifying.