“Polite Society” is about the relationship between two British Pakistani sisters whose connection is threatened the the upcoming wedding of the elder sister. It’s an action comedy science fiction film and while that sounds ambitious, it mostly succeeds.
Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) is a high school student with a girl posse (Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri) and a dream of becoming a stunt woman. Her older sister Lena (Ritu Arya) wants to be an artist, but is failing school. Both girls look like they are destined to disappoint their middle-class parents (Shobu Kapoor and Jeff Mirza) who look like they are just waiting for each of their kids to become practical and find a job, if not a career. Ria insists that Lena is “an artist, not a pencil-pounding desk shatter.” Neither is the kind of polished package that could glide easily into “Polite Society.”
In their family, only Lena supports Ria’s dream by filming Ria’s stunts for Ria’s YouTube Khan-Fun Ria Khan Stunts channel. Ria also writes to her idols, a famous UK stunt woman named Eunice Huthart (real person who was born and raised in Liverpool) who has worked on high profile projects like “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” and “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker.”
With Lena back from school, the family somehow wrangles an invitation to a particularly posh party given by another British Pakistani family. Soon after, somehow Lena becomes the fiancée of the rich and successful doctor Salim (Akshay Khanna) whose mother hosted the party.
Instead of being horrified by her awkward and unimpressively under achieving potential daughter-in-law, Salim’s mother Raheela (Nimra Bucha) is weirdly delighted. Raheela advises, “Behind every great man, there’s a very tired mother who’s sacrificed everything.” There’s also something oddly off between Salim and his mother, or at least, that’s what Ria thinks, but is Ria just being selfish? Or is there something really sinister going on?
Writer/director Nida Manzoor (“We Are Lady Parts”) channels the zany energy of both action films and her science fiction twist, while a bit uneven in execution is still fun and provides a promising platform for feminist comedy and science fiction that is neither aggressively strident or overwhelmingly ponderous in its messaging. And Manzoor even manages to include a dance number with gorgeous but relatively modest costuming.
“Polite Society” provides us with a twisted tale about the Asian dream match of marrying a doctor. Feminism here is fighting for and with family, even if it means destroying the stereotypical hopes of one’s parents. Will this newfound dedication to sisterhood for the Khan sisters be healthy or not is an intriguing question that I hope Manzoor will answer in the future. At the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Manzoor received a Directors to Watch Award for this film, and I agree.
“Polite Society” had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January and was the closing film for the Glasgow Film Festival in March of this year. The film is scheduled to be released on 28 April 2023.