Polite Society review: solving family drama with martial arts

Nimra Bucha stars as Raheela and Priya Kansara as Ria Khan in director Nida Manzoor’s POLITE SOCIETY, a Focus Features release.
Share this Article:

Priya Kansara stars as fiesty protagonist Ria in Polite Society, a film full of comedy, action, and sisterly love – here’s our review.

Every teenager has a hard time warming to their older siblings’ partner – especially if they happen to be rich, smarmy and inherently suspicious. This is exactly what young aspiring stuntwoman Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) thinks of Salim (Akshay Khanna). 

The home life of her and sister Lena (Umbrella Academy’s Ritu Arya) isn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows even before this. Ria is set on her stuntwoman dreams despite the doubt shown by teachers and classmates, while Lena dropped out of art school and now leads a directionless existence – all while their parents urge them to get “real jobs” (sigh). 

The only unconditional support they have is each other – as Lena films Ria’s stunt videos and encourages her to keep practicing the difficult moves that she just can’t quite get right. 

That closeness evaporates when Lena meets Salim – a prominent geneticist – at a social gathering and quickly becomes engaged. Not only that, they plan to marry and move to Singapore with Salim’s mother Raheela (Nimra Bucha) in record time. 

Of course, something is wrong about the whole situation, and Ria and her school friends Clara (Seraphina Beh) and Alba (Ella Bruccoleri) are going to do everything in their power to stop it from happening. Several elaborate heists ensue, and it looks like Ria’s martial arts training may come in handy after all.  

The first feature from We Are Lady Parts creator Nida Manzoor, this is a film that looks at culture, class and gender through the eyes of a tenacious young protagonist and with a generous dose of action and comedy. 

The most incredibly fun thing about Polite Society is how it captures perfectly the experience of being a teenage girl – everything is dramatic, every setback feels like the end of the world. And when something bad happens it requires an equally drastic response. 

Kansara, Beh and Bruccoleri are clearly all-in on this approach and portray the unbridled enthusiasm and unsuppressed outrage of the trio of friends with an energy paralleled by the rest of the central cast. 

Ritu Arya charms with her straight-talking, no nonsense nature, while Nimra Bucha gets to give pantomime levels of villainy as soon-to-be-mother-in-law Raheela. Very rarely does she not have an insane smug grin plastered all over her face. A long, dramatic cackle wouldn’t be out of place (and is occasionally given to great effect). I can only imagine how much her face must have hurt after a full day on set. 

Polite Society isn’t afraid to be a bit silly, and that’s often when it’s at its best. The fight choreography is sometimes a bit hammy, especially in an early school fight against bully Kovacs (Shona Babyemi) where a background character gets knocked down so quickly that it’s obviously a mannequin. Where this might be considered a mistake in some films, here it’s just another part of its lighthearted charm.

Likewise, people are thrown through walls with such force that either Ria secretly has super-strength or her entire house is made out of chipboard. 

What I won’t forgive, though, is that in a scene where Lena wakes up and discovers that she’s started her period, she’s immediately seen sitting at the breakfast table wearing white jeans. White. Jeans. Now that’s the definition of silly. 

For a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Polite Society has a lot of important things to talk about. The class divide between Ria’s family and Salim’s is obvious from the beginning, creating some amusingly relatable moments of them being intimidated by Salim’s obvious wealth. It also takes a few opportunities to poke fun at the super-wealthy, but leaves this line of commentary behind midway through to focus on other things. 

Namely it tackles themes of struggling to meet parental expectations and leaving outdated traditions behind – especially when it comes to what women should be able to achieve. This comes through clear as day thanks to the entire kick arse female cast and the enthusiasm with which they tackle their roles. 

At times, the film puts a little bit too much on its plate, and not all of its themes are carried through to a satisfactory conclusion. It also loses steam towards the end, just as you’re expecting a conclusion full of high octane action, but the characters are so tenacious, the performances so committed, and the action and tone so fun that it’s hard not to be sucked in by it. 

It’s just a rather great film about a bunch of resilient girls teaming up to take on the world, and that’s something I can get behind.  

Polite Society is in UK cinemas from 28th April.

Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:

Follow Film Stories on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Buy our Film Stories and Film Junior print magazines here.

Become a Patron here.

Share this Article:

More like this