The British import pairs a satirical take of gender and courtship roles with excellent fight choreography and top-notch slapstick.
When the trailer for Polite Society first hit screens and the internet, the immediate question of many media types was, “Is this the next Everything, Everywhere, All At Once?” Even as recently as this week, the Houston Chronicle was wondering the same. Presumably, people were asking because of the presence of martial arts and the exploration of a non-white family’s dynamics.
After seeing the film, though, it seems a bizarre comparison point. Polite Society is in better company amongst films like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, in which a mix of exhilaratingly staged action sequences and antic slapstick energy heighten and highlight the benign.
Welcome to The Fury’s World
High schooler Ria (Priya Kansara) knows what she wants in life. In contrast to her parents, Fatima (Shobu Kapoor) and Raff (Jeff Mirza), and the school’s goals for her, all the teen can think of is a future as a stuntwoman. As proof of concept, she regularly records herself learning fight techniques and making stunt attempts and uploads them to YouTube.
Where Ria feels less sure is how to help her beloved older sister Lena (Ritu Arya). What stunt work is to Ria, art once was to Lena. However, lately, the elder sibling seems to have drifted away from her dream. Worse, Ria perceives her sister’s happiness slipping away as well. Before our protagonist can solve the problem, though, love arrives. Lena falls for a well-to-do handsome geneticist Salim (Akshay Khanna). He seems great to everyone. Everyone except Ria, of course, can’t shake bad vibes from him and his mother, Raheela (Nimra Bucha).
So she does the only reasonable thing. With assistance from her friends Alba (Ella Bruccoleri) and Clara (Seraphina Beh), she sets out to thwart love. If her sister doesn’t get the danger of getting married, well, Ria will have to save Lena from herself.
Cross Cultural Appeal
Writer-Director Nida Manzoor (creator of We Are Lady Parts, helming her first movie here) pulls off the impressive trick of making the interpersonal action feel specific and universal. As a result, her depiction of the ins and outs of British Pakistani family and social dynamics feels accurate without relying on stereotypes. At the same time, however, that specificity does not make for exclusion.
Instead, it feels welcoming. In Ria, anyone every dreamer finds a reflection. Additionally, how it captures the sense of losing/being left behind by one of your favorite people is achingly honest. The family dynamics, the sense of fun and frustration with life, and the feeling of someone not showing you their true self are all immediately recognizable.
As a result, Polite Society invites you into a world you may not recognize. It reveals the uniqueness of the place and the people and, in doing so, confirms how easy it is to find common ground.
Such Glorious Combat and Spectacular Laughs
As excellent as the mix of specificity and universality is, the real selling point of Polite Society is its impeccable mix of action and humor. Crispin Layfield and Rob Lock craft stunt and fight sequences that read as awesome action on-screen. However, they make room for the humor beneath, allowing the audience to see the reality behind the hyperreality of Ria’s imagination. It perfectly balances a commitment to delivering thrilling stunts and satisfying physical chuckles.
Additionally, the script gives the actors plenty of space to shape characters and deliver real humor from that reality. Besides Kansara making Ria a constant source of laughs (with and at), Khanna and Bucha author great creepy laughs as their codependent child-parent relationship is increasingly laid bare. Finally, there’s the gentle, quiet humor that unfolds in the Khan family or between Ria and her friends. It isn’t necessarily side-splitting belly guffaws but the kind of laughs that come from a group of people who know each other so well.
Polite Society does not live up to early EEAAO hype, but it is the better for it. Smart, exciting, touching, and continuously funny, it is a great time at the movies that stands on its own.
Polite Society will kick your teeth in and give you the giggles starting April 28.
Rating: 8.5/10 SPECS
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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Tim Steven is a sad tomato, Tim Stevens is three miles of bad road. He’s also a therapist, staff writer and social media manager for The Spool, and a freelance writer with publications like ComicsVerse, Marvel.com, CC Magazine, and The New Paris Press. His work has been quoted in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and MSN Ireland. Feel free to find him @UnGajje on Twitter or in a realm of pure imagination.