Polite Society

Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) dreams of becoming a stuntwoman, enlisting her elder artist sister Lena (Ritu Arya) to shoot the ‘Khan-fu’ videos she posts to the Internet.  But when Lena, losing confidence in her artistic abilities, falls under the sway of London’s preeminent Pakistani bachelor, the handsome, Porsche-driving obstetrician, Ria is determined to do whatever it takes to save her from “Polite Society.”

Laura's Review: C

Writer/director Nida Manzoor (TV's 'We Are Lady Parts') makes her feature debut with admirable feminist and genre aims, but when it’s not on its obvious path to Ria’s success performing the flying spin kick which has been eluding her, the plot twists become so ludicrous the movie outstays its welcome.  It’s a shame Manzoor felt the need to paint a villain so perverse her film becomes risible because Kansara and Arya make for a delightful pair of unconventional siblings.

After its very promising, if familiar, opening, Fatima Khan (Shobu Kapoor) insisting her daughter will be no stuntwoman and that quitting art school was the smartest thing Lena has done (dad Rafe (Jeff Mirza) is more comically circumspect with his opinions in this female household), the two are informed they will attend an Eid Soiree at the home of Raheela (Nimra Bucha) Shah.  Stunned by the opulence of the home, Ria is nonetheless disgusted by all the women vying for Salim’s (Akshay Khanna) attention.  He is everything she despises – a mama’s boy, a slick ladies’ man and that all-consuming parental prize, a doctor.  She is gobsmacked when he arrives to take her sister out and even more distressed by her sister’s sudden predilection for wearing cardigans as she continues to date him.  And so, operation stop-the-wedding is planned with schoolmates Clara (Seraphina Beh) and Alba (Ella Bruccoleri). 

Things get increasingly silly as the trio infiltrate Salim’s gym to download his laptop data, then ramp up when Ria breaks into the Shahs’ to plant ‘used condoms,’ but her discovery of what the Shahs are actually up to is where “Polite Society” really jumps the shark.

It is difficult not to compare this with the similarly conceived 2003 film “Bend It Like Beckham” featuring another young Anglo-Indian woman bucking convention and at odds with her sister’s wedding and this one falls far short.   The film’s wedding features an elaborate dance, another chance for Kansara to show off her physical skills, but her rescue mission plays like something lifted from the Beatles “Help!”  Traditional costumes are stunning, but the film’s best moment may be the sight of Ria and Lena wearing them as they stuff their faces in a late night diner as X-ray Spex’s ‘Identity’ plays out over the film’s end credits.

Robin's Review: C

Ria (Priya Kansara) and her sister Lena (Ritu Arya) each has her own dreams. Ria is a serious martial arts trainee whose goal is to be a top stunt woman and Lena strives to be a great artist. But, when her sister drops her passion and gets engaged, Ria and her two best buds make a plan to bust up the pending marriage in “Polite Society.”

Director-writer Nida Manzoor bites off a bit more than she can handle in her debut feature about Ria looking to protect her sister and best friend, Lena, from a terrible marriage. This,of itself, could have been a pleasant little confection of sisterly love and protection. And, that is just the direction that this rom-com-drama seemed to be heading with a good natured sassiness.

I do not want to go into how the story drastically changes direction and what that direction entails, Let us just say that it crosses a bridge too far in its absurdity and loses its rom-com-drama in favor of a plot involving the evil and conniving mother of Lena’s future husband. That evil plot takes on a life of its own and is there just to show that Ria has the right stuff to be a stunt woman when she becomes “the fury.”

I liked “Polite Society’s” femme-centric rom-com for about three quarters of the story. The mission to block a possibly bad marriage is a good-natured one about sisterly love and support. But, the newbie writer-director displays a bit too much enthusiasm in her story, making for a kitchen sink kind of movie that tries to do way too muck. I like enthusiasm, but….

This lively and noisy confection could have been a good debut for its director and its star Priya Kansara. It is too bad that the rom-com takes an absurdist turn that is almost like a different movie than the first 75%. It is a turn that turned me off.

Focus Features opens "Polite Society" in theaters on 4/28/23.