Friday, 19 May 2023

Polite Society (2023)

It's a very familiar tale. A woman is prepared for marriage to a seemingly-perfect suitor. Unfortunately, her younger sister isn't happy with this development, and sets out to find flaws in the character of the groom-to-be. If this was a standard rom-com then we would have the younger sister scheming with her friends to put a stop to the marriage, and we do get that. It's very much not a standard rom-com though. The sisters are two women who seem destined to avoid the life paths they view as being rigidly laid down for British Pakistani women, with the older (Lena) trying her hand at being an artist and the younger (Ria) desperately hoping to use her allotted upcoming work experience week to learn more from a movie stuntwoman, Eunice Huthart (a real stuntwoman who first came to the attention of the British public when she accomplished a victory on the TV show "Gladiators"). As tensions rise between the two sisters, Lena struggles to hold on to her ambition, despite working hard on her own stunt/fighting skills, and things take a very strange turn in the third act, when she stumbles upon something that takes the film towards a whole other genre.

Written and directed by Nida Manzoor (acclaimed for "We Are Lady Parts", a show I have yet to watch, and have now made a top priority), Polite Society is vibrant, funny, feminist, insightful, and a bloody great time at the cinema. Although it's not as much of a loony genre mash-up as Everything Everywhere All At Once, I can see why some have compared the two, thanks to the use of action and fantastical elements to underpin a tale that speaks most directly to a specific audience demographic (while also appealing broadly to everyone). This is what can happen when we let seemingly-familiar tales be told by those who haven't always had the same representation in art and media, and it feels like a win-win for those who make films and those who enjoy watching them.

Priya Kansara is a delight in the role of Ria, carrying around a self-confidence and strength that some others resent, and she delivers in the straight acting department as well as she delivers in the moments that require her to show off some fighting skills. Ritu Arya is equally enjoyable as the older sister, managing to be a character you always root for while also working so well with Kansara that the two absolutely feel like real sisters, during good times and bad. Serphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri are a lot of fun as, respectively, Clara and Alba, two best friends of Ria, and Shona Babayemi is an entertainingly formidable presence in the role of a bully named Kovacs. Akshay Khanna is fine as the man who may well be whisking away Lena, Nimra Bucha is excellent in the role of his mother, and Shobu Kapoor and Jeff Mirza get to play the parents of our two leads without having to seem unwavering in their views or unsupportive of what their children think is best for themselves.

There's not much more I want to say about this, part of the joy comes from being so consistently pleasantly surprised by it, but just know that an opportunity to see the movie is an opportunity to have a big smile on your face for the entire runtime (and there's a scene involving a male changing room that made me laugh harder than most standard comedies I've seen in the past few years). Brilliant characters, a script full of choice dialogue, a great soundtrack, and an absolute crowd-pleaser of a third act all help make this a strong contender for one of the best films of the year.


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