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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

Polite Society // Film Review

Polite Society is deceptively extraordinary.

It presents initially as an ordinary, if stylish coming of age drama about Ria (Priya Kansara), a British-Pakistani girl with dreams of being a stuntwoman. Her parents and teachers have other ideas, namely a career in medicine, leaving Ria’s older sister Lena (Rita Aryu) as the only adult in her life supportive of her dreams. That is, until Lena “sells out” and finds herself engaged overnight to the suave and successful Salim (Akshay Khanna). Salim seems the perfect husband, winning over everyone who so much as looks him in his dreamy eyes - except for Ria of course, who suspects brainwashing is at play. 

The first forty minutes of Polite Society unravel in similar fashion to other films of its type, taking us through Ria’s many doomed efforts to sabotage the looming marriage. One sequence involves a laptop heist at the local gym, another the planting of used condoms in his bed. These schemes of rebellious youth play out fairly by-the-numbers, elevated primarily by Ria’s vivid imagination. Occasional text-pops, swipe cuts and even a heightened fight sequence with the class bully colour these scenarios with some comic book slapstick to keep things fresh. It’s good fun, just nothing new. 

It was to my great surprise then, that Polite Society reaches what would be the climax of any drama of its ilk around the forty minute mark. Ria has been confronted with a harsh reality, learning the importance of compromise, family et al... and that appears to be that. That is, until an excellent genre swerve thrusts these characters and their sobering dramas into an absurd, and crucially fantastical world, one beholden to Ria's childish daydreams.

Gone are the cold and hard rules of adult reality, hopefully never to be seen again as the final hour of Polite Society descends into a deliriously camp blend of martial arts, tense thrills, slapstick and even a scare or two. Every last plot point is stretched to its most ridiculous heights, toeing a fine line between devious and delectably dumb.

It’s a wildly imaginative feature debut from director Nida Manzoor, who only two years ago was directing midseason episodes of Doctor Who. Manzoor effortlessly swings between styles and gimmicks as she balances a half-dozen kitchen sink drama plots through the most explosively silly third act this writer has seen in quite some time. Indeed, even as the film descends into delirious spectacle, the key is those very dramas which remain rooted deep within Ria's infectious imagination, overcome only through a glorious display of love and violence. This is not the film of a child learning to live among adults, rather that of adults learning to see the world through the eyes of a child, and the result might be the year's best to date.


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