Reel Reviews | Polite Society (Sundance ’23)

By Charles Kirkland Jr.

A young girl who desires to be a stuntwoman is selfishly, and adamantly against her beloved sister’s impending marriage and will do everything in her power to stop it in the action comedy, Polite Society.

Ria and Lena Khan are the best of friends and sisters.  Ria (Priya Kansara) is a high school teenager and an aspiring stuntwoman who frequently emails her idol for advice.  Lena (Ritu Arya) is an aspiring artist who is taking time off from art school to figure out some things.  Both of them are independent and progressive women, who give fits to their parents who try to guide their daughters on the road of acceptable cultural behavior.  One day after an Eid party, Lena appears to be smitten with the son of the local socialite and after a few dates, becomes engaged.  While all the parents involved are excited, Ria resents every part of the engagement and swears to put an end to it.

Written and directed by Nida Manzoor (We Are Lady Parts), Polite Society stars Priya Kansara, Ritu Arya, Nimra Vucha, Akshay Khanna, Seraphina Beh, and Ella Bruccoleri. Society is Manzoor’s directorial debut with a feature-length film.  She has written and directed the television series “We Are Lady Parts and “Doctor Who previously.

Manzoor has exhibited a great deal of comedic skill in both writing and directing the aforementioned “We Are Lady Parts”.  A couple of the themes from the show carry over into this film, female empowerment over the cultural establishment and arranged marriage.  Manzoor adds some societal class structure issues to this mix to give a proper backbone to this story. 

Manzoor adds more than a backbone to the story.  In “Lady Parts”, she used some creative cutaways and dream visions to communicate humor.  She employs these here as well but she adds some Mortal Kombat-style “vs.” headers that are cute and funny in the moment but ultimately does not contribute anything to the development of the story.

But these tricks and additions are magic tricks probably installed to distract from the lack of proper story development.  The protagonist’s motives for wanting to stop her sister’s wedding are unclear yet her incoherent insistence makes her unlikeable.  The “loving” relationship between the two sisters also seems to be created out of ether because their only significant interaction is Lena being literally dragged out of bed by Ria to record videos for her channel.

Ultimately, Manzoor has created a longer and more energetic version of her television show.  The movie is enjoyable and fun yet flawed.  The mashup of martial arts and Bollywood make an interesting combination.  The story is funny a lot of times but essentially predictable.  Maybe Manzoor has spent too much time hating on the traditions of her culture and the institution of marriage to focus on creating a truly great story.

Grade:  B-