Polite Society Movie Review
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Ria is on a mission to stop her big sister Lena from marrying for the wrong reasons in Polite Society (2023), a film that toes the line between comedy and magical realism.
Ria (Priya Kansara) has desperate aspirations to become a stunt woman, like her idol Eunice Huthart, much to the chagrin of literally everyone. She diligently practices martial arts perfecting a flying kick move that she just can’t seem to land. Her best friend and big sister, Lena (Ritu Arya) is at loose ends in her own life, unable to find that spark of inspiration to keep painting. They live at home with their parents Raff (Jeff Mirza) and Fatima (Shobu Kapoor) who have their own designs of the girls’ future. Fatima is the only mother in her social circle with daughters and feels the judgmental glares of the other mothers, but she is very supportive of her headstrong girls.
After a surprise invitation to an Eid Mubarak party thrown by Social Alpha Raheela (Nimra Bucha), Lena finds herself courted by Raheela’s son, Salim (Akshay Khanna), a brilliant geneticist who is preparing for a new lab in Singapore. In a whirlwind courtship, Lena is swept off her feet and Ria only sees herself losing her big sister to the crushing cogs of conformity. With her friends, Clara (Seraphina Beh) and Alba (Ella Bruccoleri), Ria hatches a multipart plan to save her sister. Ria knows there is something sinister going on, and all she has to do is prove it.
Whatever you may be expecting from Polite Society can effectively be flushed. This isn’t a simple British-Pakistani drama. Part coming of age, part Bond, with a slice of sci-fi and lots of martial arts fighting is clever, funny, and surprising in its social commentary and brutal fighting. While Polite Society takes careful pains to not depict an arranged marriage, Lena’s acceptance of a fast proposal highlights the anxiety and depression experienced by young women from traditional homes. Pursue the hard path and risk social rejection for the peace that comes from following one’s internal compass, or set aside dreams for a comfortable life. Lena and Raheela’s lives intersect and intertwine in odd parallels making the conspiracy all the more nefarious.
The knock-down drag-out fights between Lena and Ria are very relatable if you grew up with sisters who gleefully took every opportunity to kill you. There is no deeper love than sibling violence, and there is nothing more pure.
There is a lot of fighting in Polite Society. Ria battles school bully Kovacs (Shona Babayemi) for the literal right to exist without backing down, with an epic battle in the school library that pulls zero punches. Ria is good, but Kovacs is bigger and faster for her size. And this is the surprising part of Polite Society – girls fight and bleed and get back up for more. There is blood and scars and split lips, and it’s all part of growing up and letting go. It can feel a little superhero-ish, and you might be left wondering if any of it is just a step too far. I didn’t but I’m not you. I really enjoyed the genre-melting magical realism. Well-choreographed fights in gowns and bangles feel like next-level Final Girl. The comedy feels genuine, the drama is organic, and while the ultimate reveal may seem preposterous, is that what you’re going to quibble over?
No, you’re not.
Polite Society is going on my Best of 2023 list now, and we might see it at the Oscars.
Polite Society (2023) is rated PG-13 for swears, face-kicking violence, bullying, weird medical procedures, naked men in locker rooms, and lots of PDA.