Polite Society: Sisters Kicking Ass, and Touching Hearts
Hollywood seems to be returning to an age where movies are allowed to be fun again: a return to the form of movies that have a lot of heart and tenacity, and that are truly an enjoyable delight from start to finish. Polite Society, the debut feature from writer/director Nida Manzoor, is an exciting romp with endearing characters, exciting fight choreography and a story about sisterhood that feels fresh, honest and real.
Don't Mess with These Sisters
The story of Polite Society seems pretty simple on the surface. Ria (Priya Kansara)wants to be a stunt woman; she's been emboldened and idolizes her older sister Lena (Ritu Arya) who is an art school dropout and struggling to find herself. Lena begins a relationship with Salim (Akshay Khanna) at the behest of her parents and his mother that moves quickly, culminating in marriage. However, Salim and his mother Raheela (Nimra Bucha) are more dubious than they originally appear, and only Ria is suspicious. With the help of her friends Ria needs to stop this wedding and save her sister.
The two leads of this film are brilliantly cast. Kansara brings an authentic teenage sensibility to the role of Ria, making her headstrong and brash, while maintaining an endearing nerd quality to her. Ria at times does some questionable things, but Kansara is able to maintain her sensibility throughout and justify her decisions in her attempts to rescue Lena. Arya is top-notch in this, having proven herself as a scene stealer in The Umbrella Academy on Netflix; she imbues Lena here with an existential dread that leaves her open to be manipulated, but an underlying strength that helps her to save the day and support her sister.
The real star of the film though is Bucha, as the main antagonist Raheela. This woman was born to play villains and she makes Raheela intimidating, smarmy, charming, and dangerous in ways that are fully captivating. Her slight mannerisms are so engaging that it is difficult to take your eyes off her when she is on screen. A special shout out must also go to Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri as Ria's best friends Clara and Alba, respectively, who have such wonderful comedic chemistry, and carry many of the humorous moments of the film.
Sets, Costumes, ACTION!
This movie looks incredible as well. The practical shooting locations all feel real and lived in, which help elevate the familial feelings and themes of the movie. The costumes elevate the scenes when necessary, showcasing Lena's slight changes into someone Ria doesn't recognize. The costumes during the wedding at the end of the film are some of the prettiest, most intricate designs I've seen in a while. They fully capture the grandeur and celebration of these British-Pakistani families' impending nuptials.
The other technical standout is the action. This film is full of it, and it is at times engrossing and hilarious to watch. The first fight of the film between Ria and her school bully is quite comical, and immediately sets the tone for how the fighting in this universe works. It was borderline reminiscent of the action scenes in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, a favorite of mine.
This movie has a lot going for it, and ultimately achieves the majority of what it sets out to do. It elevates a traditional coming-of-age story into a whimsical, engaging story about what sisters have to do to protect each other. While I think it suffers some minor pacing issues towards the middle of the film, the ending more than makes up for it in a fast-paced heist-combat extravaganza. I look forward to seeing what writer/director Nida Manzoor comes up with next, and hope that this type of fun romp continues to be a focus for Hollywood.