The Sundance midnight entry, Polite Society, is a crowd pleasing action-comedy, with two very likeable leads.
PLOT: A young woman (Priya Kansara) studying martial arts becomes convinced something nefarious is afoot when her formally rebellious sister (Ritu Arya) agrees to a marriage arranged by her Pakistani family.
REVIEW: Polite Society is rare for Sundance these days – a crowd-pleasing action comedy. Everything Everywhere All At Once proved there’s a hunger for variations on the genre. Polite Society mixes your classic culture-clash coming-of-age tale (shades of Bend it Like Beckham or Blinded by the Light) with the type of light action comedy the directors in Hong Kong used to turn out regularly. Polite Society is a fun-filled actioner for all ages, featuring wire-fu and a whole bunch of fight scenes.
It helps that director Nida Manzoor (We Are Lady Parts) brings specificity to the film with her being born into a Pakistani Muslim family while living in London, just like the leads. Her heroine, Priya Kansara’s Ria Khan, comes from a relatively open-minded family. She’s a devoted martial artist who wants to become a stuntwoman, and her sister, a martial artist herself, is a rebellious art school dropout. Naturally, all of this makes her decision to agree to an arranged marriage suspicious. Still, the film does a good job showing why the sister, played by an excellent Ritu Arya, would agree to the match. She’s shown going on several dates with the match, a rich, handsome, and kind doctor. Ria probably wouldn’t have an issue with the marriage were it not for the fact that her beloved sister will be moving with him to Singapore and has no interest in working as an artist anymore.
For much of the movie, Ria’s quest to break up the relationship feels misguided or even monstrous, with the only apparent red herring being the groom’s wildly overbearing mother, played by Pakistani actress Nimra Bucha, who wants the marriage to happen. This is where the film almost goes wrong, as Manzoor comes close to making Ria insufferably self-righteous, only to reveal there’s some merit to her worries in the second half. Here is where Polite Society detours into martial arts mayhem, with lots of flashy, fun fights, done more in the Scott Pilgrim mode than the HK-approved Everything Everywhere All At Once. There’s also a heavy dose of Bollywood thrown in, with a terrific musical number midway through the movie and some really well-done costumes and production design.
It all works well due to Manzoor’s light touch and flair for pace (although the first twenty minutes or so were uneven), while Kansara and Arya are terrific as the two sisters at the center of the movie. Kansara, in particular, seems like a star in the making, with this a good showcase for her comedic and action chops. Some will complain that the fights aren’t elaborate or hard-hitting enough, but it’s better to think of Polite Society as a teen movie first and everything else second. I could imagine this film gaining a big following among young female martial arts fans, with a whole new generation of them seemingly being born thanks to the success of Cobra Kai. Polite Society feels like a natural evolution of the genre to encompass other genres, and if this leads to an influx of coming-of-age martial arts movies, sign me up.
Originally published at www.joblo.com