‘Polite Society’ Review: A hyper-creative punch to the gut
Sundance: We Are Lady Parts creator Nida Manzoor takes a flying, fantastical leap into feature films with a totally original coming-of-age action comedy.
The Khan sisters aren’t just big dreamers; You are tall maker. Well, something like that. The British-Pakistani siblings – including eldest sister Lena (Ritu Arya) and little sister Ria (Breakout star Priya Kansara) – have always strived to find their own way in the world, but as Lena dreams of becoming an artist , begin to wane, Ria’s aspirations to become a world-class stunt performer get a much more important cast. Most of the time she has to turn her love of kicking ass into something that can do nothing less than save her whole world.
For her debut feature, We Are Lady Parts creator Nida Manzoor weaves a hyper-creative coming-of-age story about (pause to take a deep breath): struggle against patriarchy, feminine expectations, “The Matrix, “Islam, martial arts, family dynamics, high school dynamics, freshly squeezed juice, romance, friendship, forced leg waxing, possibly evil hybrid alien babies, diplomacy, computer hacking, and a really cool convertible.” At its core, Manzoor’s bulging “Polite Society” asks a haunting question: what happens when your best friend decides to go her own way in life?
For Ria, that particular pickle consumes every part of her life, because as soon as Lena stops dreaming and When she does what she loves most, the impact on Ria is profound (which, she wonders, means Lena’s crisis is causing the youngest Khan sister to burst into flames too?). Ria’s ambitions have always consumed her, but they’ve left plenty of room for classic teenage hooks, like a penchant for fantasy and fatalism. Suddenly struck by a problem she desperately wants to solve, Ria must pull together everything she is—the good and the bad—to “save” her sister from going down a path Ria just can’t fathom.
This street? Before. (Shouting.)
When Manzoor’s film begins, Lena is at a loss, even though Ria can’t quite see it. Having recently left art school, Lena spends her days (often literally) picking at her paintings, strolling the streets around the cozy Khan house, and eating Peking duck with her bare hands. Things are not going well! Ria is similarly unattached, even if she doesn’t realize it, and spends her free time firing off emails at her idol (who never replies), doing intricate handshakes with her best buddies (Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri, both adorable), and defending her sister to anyone and everyone (especially her cute but amazed parents, played by Shobu Kapoor and Jeff Mirza).
Still, Ria’s imagination is strong, and Manzoor deftly blends the real (Ria arguing with a classmate) with the fantastic (this argument turns into a breathtaking spectacle of body slams and spin kicks that would make the Wachowskis jealous). But soon we all have to ask ourselves: What actually is real here?
When the Khans embark on a swanky Eid soiree (the film is divided into chapters, including one titled “Eid Soiree”), Ria is shocked to discover that her unconventional, artistic sister has killed the handsome doctor’s son (Aksha Khanna). by one of her mother’s snooty buddies (Nimra Bucha). Things escalate and soon Lena and Salim are gasp, involved? For Ria, there’s nothing worse than seeing her sister play with the very feminine expectations she’s always fought against. But maybe Ria’s seemingly insane concerns — like that Salim and his mother are up to something truly nefarious, and not just sticking to traditional desires and plans — have roots in the real world. Or is it?
Manzoor, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, takes this concept to wild, riotous endings. Polite Society is an action comedy that throws everything from “Sixteen Candles” and “The Matrix” to “Ocean’s Twelve” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” in a blender and twists them for a totally original purpose that “Polite Society” is a mad delight beginning to end. The real magic, though? It is also indebted to the primal affection between siblings, the love between two people who know each other better than anyone and then realize that even that love has limits.
Hell, maybe it doesn’t! Because while Ria’s belief that something is really wrong with Lena and Salim’s love affair alienates her from almost everyone, including these cute parents and dedicated BFFs, she just can’t give it up — or her sisterly bond. Big laughs, snappy editing, and unbelievable fight sequences commend the film, but it’s the deep emotion at its heart that really makes it special.
That, of course, and a pair of female leads eager to dream, do, and kick ass—together. As inspiring as it is entertaining, “Polite Society” is a strong debut from Manzoor and a rallying cry for a whole new cast of brand new stars to defend. Polite? Rarely. powerful? Really, and more.
“Polite Society” premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Focus Features will release it in theaters on April 28, 2023.
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https://www.indiewire.com/2023/01/polite-society-review-1234797864/ ‘Polite Society’ Review: A hyper-creative punch to the gut