REVIEW: ‘Polite Society’ Is A Hilarious Farce And Sweet Sibling Tale

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Polite Society — But Why Tho

I had been looking forward to Polite Society, written and directed by Nida Manzoor ever since I first saw a trailer for it, and it did not disappoint. This action-comedy is the tale of two sisters, Ria (Priya Kansara) and Lena (Ritu Arya). Ria is dead set on becoming a stunt performer, while Lena recently dropped out of art school, much to Ria’s distress. But when Lena becomes suddenly betrothed to Salim Shah (Akshay Khanna), a man she only just barely met, Ria knows something must be amiss and commits to breaking them up before it’s too late.

Polite Society is both a hilarious farce and a sweet sibling tale. It makes it clear from the beginning this isn’t a realistic film. There are computer-generated martial arts early on and increasingly absurd fight sequences throughout. And the dialogue is elevated just slightly into a sarcastic, ironic parody. But it’s also, at its core, a really sweet story about two siblings’ love for each other. As soon as Ria finds out Lena is getting married, it triggers both intense jealousy and a blaring concern. Watching both of these feelings interplay with one another is wonderful as Ria navigates school bullies, friend breakups, nagging parents, and a dream of being a stunt woman that nobody believes in. But for every moment of introspection and excellent acting through mania and fury, the movie is riddled with comedy.

The root of Polite Society’s hilarity begins in its script and how it’s performed to a tee. Ria and Lena especially are written with constant one-liners with perfect word choices to sound like a teenager and her older sister but with just a hint of knowing parody to the zingers and awkward bits-per-minute that they unleash. A perfectly timed “mazel tov” from Ria feels at once so out of place in their Pakistani-British household yet so perfectly attuned to the vernacular the movie quickly accustoms us to. Ria’s two best friends and co-conspirators Clara (Seraphina Beh) and Alba (Ella Bruccoleri) get the same treatment, though with even more of an angle toward comic relief. Every scene their in is instantly funnier for it.

The other powerful source of comedy is the way Polite Society uses markers of horror movies to create hilarity. Chiefly, the movie frequently frames characters, especially Ria, through a window in a classically off-putting way. The score turns dark and creepy during these types of shot, or shots where Ria is being framed against Raheela (Nimra Bucha), her would-be mother-in-law. These moments create some of the biggest laughs because you know there is real tension going on in the Shah household but nobody believes Ria except for Clara and Alba. So every time these horror devices are used, they feel just as ironic as the script and the intentionally corny action moments, even if we also know that Ria is onto something.

The biggest issue I have to take with Polite Society is with some of its action sequences. The movie is about a teenager who wants to be a stunt woman. Yet, the movie doesn’t trust its actors to perform stunts, cutting away from many of the biggest windups and relying on slow motion as comedy to mask what might otherwise be fairly mundane choreography. When the movie is showing off marital arts or even using its totally cheesy computer-generated moments, the action is at its best. We know the computer-generated parts are a joke, so why not lean into it all the way? And we see plenty of excellent action moves. Why cut away from some of the biggest? The exact same thing can be said, unfortunately, of the movie’s dance scene which is broken piecemeal between dramatic and comedic moments elsewhere instead of letting the scene just be fun on its own for a few minutes.

Polite Society — But Why Tho

The best part of the action though is often the costuming. The wedding outfits present across the movie’s marketing are stunning unto themselves, but they’re designed so practically that they end up playing pivotal roles in the choreography and cinematography of the scenes they’re worn in. But even in earlier scenes, the costuming and makeup helps really paint the movie’s picture perfectly. Ria has to wear a uniform to school but wears masculinized polos and furry jackets when on her own. And Lena goes from dressing like an artist who doesn’t care how she looks to being obsessive about her outfits as soon as she meets Salim. Across the board, even with secondary characters, the costuming is an excellent marker of everyone’s personalities.

Beyond the action and comedy, though, I really enjoy the movie’s underlying message. You’re made to assume that Ria and Lena’s parents are the typical type of immigrant parents who obsess over their children’s successes. Which they are. But they are not the source of pressure in the movie once it gets going — Ria herself is. She puts all of the pressure on herself and onto Lena to fit a mold she’s imagined them both into, even if that’s not what either of them truly wants. Or maybe it is. Polite Society isn’t interested in determining their proper paths, just as long as they’re honest in their considerations.

Polite Society is a very funny and rather heartfelt story of two siblings with lots of absurdity and martial arts in between. It doesn’t reach its full action potential, but its knowingly sarcastic tone and scripting are top-notch, as are its costumes and its overall premise. Even when things get really weird, it always pulls you back with its endearing characters and fun action-comedy sequences.

Polite Society is playing in theaters nationwide now.

Polite Society
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10


Polite Society is a very funny and rather heartfelt story of two siblings with lots of absurdity and martial arts in between.

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