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‘Polite Society’ Review: British-Pakistani Teen Takes Down Tradition in Wild, Witty Action Comedy



The teenage central character of Polite Society has more energy than she knows what to do with, and so does the film that contains her.

This debut feature from writer/director Nida Manzoor, creator of the acclaimed television series We Are Lady Parts, is the sort of wildly audacious work that signifies a rising talent who can’t wait to throw more ideas into the cinematic mix. Admittedly, not all of them gel in this raucous comedy receiving its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival before a theatrical release by Focus Features in April. But even when the ambitious film overshoots, you can’t wait to see what happens next.

Polite Society

The Bottom Line

Rudely funny.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Midnight)
Cast: Priya Kansara, Ritu Arya, Nimra Bucha, Akshay Khanna, Seraphina Beh, Ella Bruccoleri
Director-screenwriter: Nida Manzoor

1 hour 43 minutes

And a lot happens in this story revolving around Ria (Priya Kansari), a British-Pakistani girl who dreams of becoming a stuntwoman like her idol (represented by photos of famed real-life British stuntwoman Eunice Huthart), to whom she consistently writes letters. that serves as the film’s voiceover narration. Ria is also a passionate devotee of martial arts, but as her wildly physical brawl with a bully at school demonstrates, she has a tendency to misjudge distances. Adopting fierce poses and bellowing the catchphrase “I am the Fury!” (why wasn’t that the film’s title?), she makes videos for the followers of her YouTube channel, her videographer being her older sister Lena (Ritu Arya, The Umbrella Academy).

The close relationship between Ria and Lena, who recently returned home after dropping out of art school, becomes threatened when they join their supportive parents (Shobu Kappor, Jeff Mirza) in attending an Eid party to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Lena falls under the romantic spell of Salim (Akshay Khanna), the sort of handsome doctor with perfect teeth, toned body and lavish wealth who would make the ideal male hero in a romantic novel. When Lena tells her sister her intention of marrying Salim and moving with him to Singapore, Ria is horrified that the older sister she idealizes is giving up on her artistic aspirations.

“So you’re doing a Jane Austen, then?” Ria asks bitterly.

Ria’s determination to prevent her sister from making such a life-changing mistake leads to a series of increasingly outlandish comic episodes — beginning with her and her loyal friends (Seraphina Beh and Ella Brucceri, both terrific) infiltrating Salim’s men’s gym, Ria outfitted with a bushy mustache that would make Yosemite Sam envious, to steal his laptop in the hope of finding incriminating evidence. But her desperate attempts to discredit Salim consistently fail, and eventually incur the wrath of his officious mother (Nimra Bucha of Ms. Marvelamusingly and broadly villainous), who at one point gets revenge by torturing Ria with a painful leg waxing.

The plot gets even loopier from there, eventually lapsing into a horror/sci-fi mode that doesn’t really work despite the narrative lunacy preceding it. But it’s easy to forgive such missteps thanks to Manzoor’s delightfully satirical approach that reveals an enthusiasm for so many literary and cinematic genres that you get whiplash trying to keep up. (The film is divided into several “chapters,” beginning with “A Tale of Two Sisters” and “Eid Soiree.”) The witty humor is frequently enlivened by Robbie Morrison’s precisely timed editing that hilariously accentuates the jokes like visual rimshots.

The film also has a real find in Kansari, making her feature debut and tearing into her role with a physical gusto and wild-eyed, manic energy that makes you sympathize with Ria at her worst. Even when the character is literally falling flat on her face, you have no doubt she’s going to get herself up and eventually triumph. Just as Polite Society does as well.

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