Polite Society (2023)

Polite Society (2023)

This riotous mishmash of influences still feels utterly original thanks to some ingenious writing and a whirlwind central performance

The Very Best



United Kingdom
Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama
Akshay Khanna, Ella Bruccoleri, Eunice Huthart
103 min


Polite Society doesn’t just smash the patriarchy, it roundhouse kicks it in the crotch

What it's about

A martial arts-crazy teenager sets out to stop her older sister from marrying a suspiciously perfect man

The take

Kill Bill meets Bend It Like Beckham in this wild ride about a martial arts-obsessed British-Pakistani teenager who views her older sister’s impending marriage as a catastrophe to be averted at all costs. Aspiring stuntwoman Ria (Priya Kansara) can’t stomach the idea of free-spirited Lena (Ritu Arya) giving up on her creative dreams to marry a nauseatingly perfect man — not least because art school dropout Lena is her hero for refusing to conform to their community’s traditional ideas about respectability and success.

Polite Society makes room to sensitively explore Ria’s disappointment and the loneliness of rebellion, but writer-director Nida Manzoor doesn’t stop there, throwing in a sharp allegory disguised as a zany twist. Rather than upending our expectations for upending’s sake, the surprise metaphor refigures the movie as perceptive cultural commentary on the age-old devaluation of women as mere vessels for the next generation. What’s more, Manzoor takes the analogy full circle to thoughtfully imagine how this kind of dehumanizing misogyny might have affected previous generations, suggesting that the real villains lie offscreen. Movies as inventive and intelligent as this don’t come around often, but one that’s this funny, visually bold, unabashedly feminist, and full of stars-in-the-making is rarer still.

What stands out

The entire cast are faultless, but the breakout star here is undoubtedly Priya Kansara as Ria. She’s a veritable blast of high-octane energy in the movie’s martial arts scenes (having done most of her own stunts) and an equally impressive comic force (take her delivery of “Bastard cardigan!” as an example). Kansara is also so naturally sympathetic that Ria’s good intentions are never in doubt, even when she hatches some extremely questionable schemes to save her sister. Remarkably, this is only her first lead, but if there’s any justice in the world, it will be the first of many.

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