Polite Society movie review: Priya Kansara shines in this fun yet uneven comedy about bond between sisters
Polite Society movie review: A young woman sets out to save her older sister from a leery arranged marriage in this enjoyable but patchy British comedy.
Writer-director Nida Manzoor's feature directorial debut Polite Society focuses on the strong bond between the Khan sisters that is tested when one of them agrees for an arranged marriage. It is then up to Ria, the younger sibling, to save Lena from a lifetime of drudgery the only way she knows, through some kung fu fighting. The British comedy, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, has some very funny moments as Ria tries to save her family with the help of her friends.
Polite Society's lead Priya Kansara has a star-making turn as the passionate Ria who wants nothing more than to be a stuntwoman. She continues to write to her idol, Hollywood stunt double Eunice Huthart, hoping to get an internship. Her school and parents are skeptical about her future but her closest friends (Ella Bruccoleri and Seraphina Beh) and sister Lena (Ritu Arya) believe in her unconditionally. Lena even records her many training videos on her channel 'Kung-Fu Khan'.
The two sisters' closeness is eventually threatened with the entrance of smarmy billionaire doctor Salim Shah (Akshay Khanna) who begins dating Lena. Within a few weeks, the two are engaged to be married. Only Ria suspects something is off with Salim and his mother Raheela (Nimra Bucha) and tries her best to break up the marriage by any means necessary, even breaking into their mansion to dig up some dirt.
The action all comes to a head at the grand wedding of Salim and Lena where Ria puts her last 'plan' into overdrive to rescue her sisters from their clutches. Of course, there are a few snags, and they're dealt with hilariously. The big reveal of the Shahs' selection of Lena as the perfect candidate for a wife is a bit unconvincing and a bit of a letdown. Lena's character is also less developed than Ria's, leaving her a bit less fleshed out compared to the other characters. It's the weakest part in the otherwise enjoyable film.
What does work for Manzoor's Polite Society are the sharp, witty dialogues and Kansara's earnest performance that drives the film further. On a date, Salim asks Lena, "What do you do?" She eventually replies, "I disappoint my parents." Besides crackling action sequences in which Ria learns to take several punches before recovering, the schoolgirls' scheming as they plot Salim's downfall is also entertaining. There's also a neat arc about Ria's bully Kovacs (Shona Babayemi) turning into a surprising ally.
Bollywood fans will also love the musical nods to familiar songs, especially Maar Daala from Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas (2002), made popular on the screen by Madhuri Dixit's Chandramukhi. Here, Ria gives her own delightful twist on it as she dances to the song at the wedding, taunting the already seething Raheela, who has become her number one adversary.
While Polite Society's plot takes some incredibly zany turns in the second half, it can be forgiven as the film's charms outweigh the weaker storyline introduced for shock value. Overall, at 103 minutes, Polite Society is an engaging story about two sisters who face some adversity but come out stronger in the end. Kansara is particularly convincing as a young teenager whose overactive imagination gets the best of her every time, but she really does have good intentions at heart for Lena and their family.