Polite Society review: An ambitious high energy genre mash-up movie

Nimra Bucha stars as Raheela and Priya Kansara as Ria Khan in Polite Society. (Universal)
Nimra Bucha stars as Raheela and Priya Kansara as Ria Khan in Polite Society. (Universal)
  • 🎞️ When is it out: In cinemas from Friday, 28 April

  • ⭐️ Our rating: 3/5

  • 🎭 Who's in it? Priya Kansara, Rita Arya, Akshay Khanna, Shobu Kapoor, Nimra Bucha, Jeff Mirza

  • 👍 What we liked: A high-kicking, high-energy mash-up of genres mixed with a large helping of humour.

  • 👎 What we didn't: A film of two halves, where the story loses its way and the humour loses its bite.

  • 📖 What's it about? A mash-up of sisterly affection, parental disappointment and bold action, Polite Society follows wannabe stuntwoman Ria Khan who believes she must save her older sister Lena from her impending marriage. After enlisting the help of her friends, Ria attempts to pull off the most ambitious of all wedding heists in the name of independence and sisterhood.

  • ⏱️ How long is it? 1 hour 44 minutes

For her first feature, Polite Society, director/writer Nida Manzoor (creator of We Are Lady Parts) has given us a melting pot of a film, one that mixes martial arts with Jane Austen and Bollywood and throws in coming of age themes, superhero movies and Bend It Like Beckham.

That’s just for starters. Her high-kicking, high-energy comedy has girls taking the lead, subverting what their families see as the natural order of things and placing them on a collision course with traditions rooted in the ways of the old country.

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It all gets off to a rip-roaring start, with a first half that’s fast moving and funny. The portrait of teenager Ria’s (newcomer Priya Kansara) vivid fantasies and ambitions is right on the button. She dreams of a career as a stuntwoman and, although her spirit and desire are miles ahead of her physical ability, there’s still the sense that she’ll get there.

Watch a trailer for Polite Society

But she’s also ambitious for sister Lena (The Umbrella Academy’s Rita Arya) to become an artist, even though her time at art college was short-lived and she now lives back at home. The two actors make the loving yet bickering sisters eminently believable as they revel in the crackling script.

But, half way through, it all starts to go off the rails. It’s as if Manzoor suddenly loses her way and flounders as she tries to bring the story to its climax and conclusion. The results is a radical change of direction, one that desperately tries to hold on to the humour and pace of the first half but only partly succeeds.

Priya Kansara stars as Ria Khan and Ritu Arya as her sister Lena in Polite Society. (Universal)
Priya Kansara stars as Ria Khan and Ritu Arya as her sister Lena in Polite Society. (Universal)

And, out of near-nowhere, the storyline acquires an implausible, suburban horror element which never truly lands. At that point, it’s very much down to the cast to keep matters afloat and it’s the younger actors who keep the smiles going when the laughs have all but faded.

Ambitious yet flawed, Polite Society is a film of two halves but also serves as a strong calling card for Manzoor, displaying yet again her talent for crisp, sharply observed writing and a confident directorial hand.

There’s no doubt she will be back and, frankly, we can’t wait.

What other critics thought of Polite Society

The Guardian: Fun action comedy mashes Jane Austen and the Chuckle Brothers (2 min read)

Total Film: A charm-bomb of a movie (4 min read)

Indiewire: A hyper-creative punch to the gut of feminine expectations (4 min read)