REVIEW: Polite Society (2023)

Martial artist-in-training Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) believes she must save her older sister Lena (Ritu Arya) from her impending marriage. After enlisting the help of her friends, Ria attempts to pull off the most ambitious of all wedding heists.

Polite Society was such an unexpected delight. It’s inventive and fun and blends different genres so well. It’s a martial arts action film, a family drama, a romance, a comedy, a coming-of-age story and it combines all those elements really well and in unexpected ways. It also excellently blurs the line between fantasy and reality. Ria and Lena are the only characters who have been stated to know martial arts, but that doesn’t stop other characters getting in on the action. Plus, there are moments where characters have evil monologues or characters fights are more symbolic of their argument. It’s a really odd but interesting and compelling way to tell a story.

Ria’s love of martial arts means there are a lot of fight sequences and they’re all shot well, are fun, and often do things story-wise you wouldn’t expect. Ria may be a martial artist, and a pretty good one too, but that doesn’t mean she comes out on top in every fight and it’s that struggle that makes her successes all the more impactful.

One of the keys to Polite Society’s success is the lead actresses. Kansara and Arya have great chemistry and their sibling dynamic is so believable – as is their relationships with their parents. Priya Kansara is phenomenal in her first lead role. So much of the story rests on her shoulders and she sells everything; the action, the comedy, all the emotional moments between her and her family and friends. She portrays Ria as such a relatable teen girl whose aspirations don’t fit in with what’s expected and who fights for what she believes in even if she makes a load of messy mistakes along the way.

One of the main themes of Polite Society is sisterhood; whether that’s biological sisters or the best friends who are like sisters. Ria’s best friends Clara (Seraphina Beh) and Alba (Ella Bruccoleri), and even school bully Kovacs (Shona Babayemi), all play such a big role in supporting Ria but also calling her out when she pushes things too far or hurts them, however unintentionally. Stories about sisterhood hold a special place in my heart and all these girls are their own brand of weird, brave, and clever.

Director and writer Nida Manzoor made a film that has humour, heart and style and it is an absolute joy. Polite Society is a great example of British filmmaking and our often off-beat sense of humour, while still being its own unique film. 4/5.

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