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Review: Polite Society (2023)

Polite Society (2023)

Directed by: Nida Manzoor

Premise: Ria (Priya Kansara) is a Pakistani teenager living in the United Kingdom with her family. Her older sister (Ritu Arya) gets engaged and Ria is convinced that the wedding is a sham and that her brother-in-law-to-be (Akshay Khanna) is hiding a sinister secret.

What Works: Polite Society is primarily the story of two daughters of an immigrant family stuck between the traditions of the culture and the opportunities of modern society. Ria loves action movies and wants to become a Hollywood stunt performer and her sister Lena is an art school dropout. Ria is determined to hold onto her unconventional dreams and views Lena as compromising herself when she gets into a relationship with a successful doctor and accepts his marriage proposal. The tension between the sisters and between the daughters and their parents is the heart of the movie and that part of it works. The filmmakers understand the way younger siblings look up to their older brethren especially for a sense of opportunity and possibility; Lena abandoning her artistic dreams imperils Ria’s own aspirations. The scenes between the sisters are convincing and humorous. The filmmakers convey the love between them but also the panic on Ria’s part when facing separation from her sister. 

What Doesn’t: The middle of Polite Society consists of a series of hairbrained stunts on Ria’s part to dig up dirt on her sister’s fiancé that will derail the wedding. Ria’s plans are rather stupid. That’s part of the point. She’s not thinking clearly and her ruses don’t turn up anything. In due course, the real villain of Polite Society is revealed. It’s a bizarre turn in the storytelling that makes some sense in context. The young characters of Pakistani descent come from a culture that expects deference to their elders and the plot twist of Polite Society plays on that idea. However, the twist also validates Ria’s paranoia. Instead of leading her to an epiphany about life and the necessity of change and the fact that some of our dreams might not materialize, the film opts for a more fantastic route. This choice becomes a problem because of the filmmaking style. There is a tension in Polite Society between bits that are grounded and realistic and elements that are fantastic. The action scenes are mostly mediocre and film’s transitions into fantasy come across out of character with the rest of the movie. This picture needs a style like that of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or Kung Fu Hustle to pull together these different parts. Without that, Polite Society plays as a disjointed assembly of conflicting pieces.

Bottom Line: Actors Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya do very well and director Nida Manzoor is a promising filmmaker but Polite Society is uneven. It’s funny and the family drama plays very well but these scenes don’t mix with the action or the fantastic story twists.

Episode: #947 (May 7, 2023)