Year:  2023

Director:  Nida Manzoor

Rated:  M

Release:  April 27, 2023

Distributor: Universal

Running time: 104 minutes

Worth: $17.00
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Priya Kansara, Ritu Arya, Renu Brindle, Seraphina Beh, Ella Bruccoleri, Sally Ann

… a frenzied flurry of blows, both physical and comedic, aimed right at the danglys of the patriarchy …

Having made her mark with short films and solid TV work (between creating We Are Lady Parts and giving Chibnall-era Doctor Who much-needed highlights), British writer/director Nida Manzoor has now kicked in the door with a feature debut. And quite frankly, not since Hot Fuzz has British action-comedy looked this cool.

Stylistically, this bathes in its influences: Kung-fu flicks of all stripes (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and RZA’s The Man With The Iron Fists take up equal residency in the bedroom of main character Ria Khan) and the genre alchemy behind Edgar Wright’s bigger successes. The presentation carries an infectious energy reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim, while old-school action filmmaking techniques are used to turn British mundanity into high-intensity parodic thrills a la Hot Fuzz, and even the use of fight choreography as comedy fits in with the Drunken Master throwdowns in The World’s End.

Not that the alchemy sticks just to Wright. In Manzoor’s depiction of the struggles of British-Pakistani sisters Ria (Priya Kansara) and Lena (Ritu Arya), we get servings of grammar school teen drama (framed against Ria’s purple-belt moves, a juxtaposition Manzoor dabbled with in her short 7.2), an intentionally half-baked heist caper, and even a leaning into Jordan Peele-esque genre absurdity.

Polite Society also can bust a gut as quickly as drive a tempered fist into it, as the performances coupled with Nanzoor’s dialogue make for plentiful laughs throughout.

Along with sharing a comparable modus operandi to Wright in its want to establish a tradition for action film aesthetic within the British Isles – right down to the prominent fan worship of Gladiators contestant turned Hollywood stuntwoman Eunice Huthart – it toys with the national tradition for romance stories to preach real feminism as it pertains to both Ria and Lena.

Similar to Manzoor’s Lady Parts, there’s a real punk mentality behind the film’s clear want to dispel perpetuated myths about what women are ‘supposed’ to be doing, with a comparable backing of cultural expectations added on. It follows a certain gaslit progression in how it shows Ria’s reaction to Lena becoming engaged to a wealthy doctor, but as the weirder edges become apparent, it breaks out into a victorious sprint that applies the discipline and strength of martial arts to highlight a whole different kind of strength: The Fury of the inner feminine.

Of course, it helps that the ‘reasoning’ of the villains is equal parts envy politics, where past generations’ unfulfillment turns into a ‘If I can’t have it, nobody can’ attitude, and the kind of uncomfortable fixation on female fertility and strong uteri that wouldn’t look out of place in one of Matt Walsh’s vlogs. Absurdity is best when it’s accurate.

Polite Society joyfully lacerates the pretence of its own title, unleashing a frenzied flurry of blows, both physical and comedic, aimed right at the danglys of the patriarchy. Not only is it a resounding success for Nida Manzoor as a transition to the big screen, its lead performance by Priya Kansara has all the promise of a star-maker. She’s mentioned wanting to work with Michelle Yeoh at some point in the future, and by Jove, her aptitude with the stunts here makes for a solid case.