Polite Society (2023) Spoiler-Free Review
In Nida Manzoor’s latest comedy-drama, teenage misfit Ria Khan practices martial arts in hopes of becoming a stuntwoman, despite her parents and teachers pressuring her to become a doctor; but when her sister, Lena, gets engaged to a rich man with plenty of secrets, Ria finds herself in a real-life action movie. As shown in the trailer, Manzoor achieves an almost symphonic balance of tone here. Shifting between humor, high-octane fun and profound moments of personal insight, she gives us a beautiful exploration of family, sisterhood, friendship and more. Part coming-of-age story, part satire on patriarchy in the British-Pakistani diaspora, this film is as dynamic and well-made as it is fun. From purposeful camerawork to great writing and fantastic acting, it’s an independent gem that couldn’t have come at a better time.
Because the movie is situated so firmly in Ria’s adolescent perspective, I appreciated how over the top everything felt. Using video-game graphics and breaking the film into different chapters emphasizes the drama while also adding a fun bit of humor. There’s a bombastic nature to everything, including the fight scenes. Be it sibling scraps or schoolyard beatdowns, this movie is reminiscent of your favorite martial arts film, but probably does a better job of imbuing these sequences with a sense of emotion. The choreography is dramatic and wild, even including a bit of what I assume to be wirework. In these moments, the camerawork also adds to the eclectic tone with zoom-ins taken straight from Clint Eastwood westerns. Quick-cut editing establishes a great pace throughout, but really shines during these instants. The soundtrack also plays into this self-aware absurdity by resembling the music in superhero movies, letting the orchestra crescendo in moments that add to the hilarity. This approach allows the film to transcend itself and join larger conversations around genre and who gets to be the hero. With these formal choices, Ria isn’t just a teenage girl fighting evil in-laws. This adds more weight, while still keeping the mood light. Despite this smart use of humor, the ideas explored in this movie are intense, and are largely successful thanks to the cast.
In a film so concerned with class and gender roles or expectations, I found it interesting that one of the primary antagonists was a very rich man’s mother. Through Nimra Bucha’s icily commanding performance as Raheela, audiences come to understand why some women choose to actively perpetuate patriarchy. It’s a nuanced conversation that’s handled deftly thanks to Manzoor’s script, as well as the acting. Priya Kansara did a wonderful job with Ria’s character, controlling the screen in almost every scene. We also get some great moments of interiority with her character as Ria writes emails to her favorite stuntwoman. There's also Ritu Arya, who made a fantastic Lena. Both actresses had great emotional range and commitment, moving from ferocious to sentimental within a single scene. Shona Kapoor was another highlight in the supporting cast, striking a great balance as a supportive yet doting mother to Ria and Lena.
There’s not a lot I can say about the plot without giving too much away, but trust me when I say this is one of the best movies to come out this year. Hilarious, ridiculous, and powerfully insightful, it’s one of those movies that reminds you why the medium’s so special. I’d compare it to Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) in how it manages to be absurd while still making you cry, but it isn’t as committed to frenetic pacing, and there are way less plot holes. Watching Ria make her own way through the world while facing insecurities and doubts is a powerful undercurrent. Plus, she kicks plenty of ass throughout the film. Catch Polite Society in theaters near you! If you enjoyed this review, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! It helps pay the various fees that come with running a website, and keeps this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog in this way including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations, access to free giveaways and more!