Written and directed by Nida Manzoor, Polite society stars Priya Kansara (Bridgerton), Ritu Arja (Umbrella Academy) and Nimra Bucha (Disney+ Ms. Marvel). The film Focus Features had its world premiere Friday in the Midnight section of the Sundance Film Festival.
The film begins with Ria (Kansara), a Pakistani teenager in a karate class. She is a purple belt who seriously wants to hone her skills to become a stunt woman. She records YouTube videos of her home workout reciting the line “I am the fury.” Her older sister Lena (Ayra) is an art school dropout who roams her parents’ house and often helps Ria shoot her videos. Ria is obsessed with professional stuntwoman Eunice Huthart, whom she emails regularly but never gets a reply.
Ria and her two friends Clara (Seraphina Beh) and Alba (Ella Bruccoleri) attend a private girls’ school where they are constantly bullied by a girl named Kovacs (Shona Babayemi). The bullying reaches a fever pitch until both Ria and Kovac’s wire-fu fights begin on the school grounds. Ria’s parents Fatima (Shobu Kapoor) and Rafe (Jeff Mirza) are working people who expect their daughters to become doctors, lawyers or something other than artist or stuntwoman. After the family attends an Eid Mubarak celebration at the house of Raheela (Bucha), a wealthy member of the Pakistani community, Ria Rich learns that her sister is in the running to marry Raheela’s wealthy geneticist son Salim (Akshay Khanna). ). The teen senses something sinister is going on, but what can she do without proof? Everything in her power to make sure this marriage doesn’t happen.
Polite society is a fun story about what happens when families are divided between tradition and modernism, and how to find the balance between the two. Yes, arranged marriages are still a thing in that culture, but Ria finds it strange that Lena falls in love with Salim after just a few weeks. However, it is difficult to judge what is real and what is imagined by Ria, as she is the most unreliable narrator. Even though she is right to speculate, her mind greatly exaggerates the scenarios. The only thing that makes her claims somewhat plausible is that deep down, Lena senses that something is wrong, too.
Polite society‘s fantastical elements are told in a disorganized way just to get the message across about caste systems, religion and reincarnation. This style works for the most part and it’s easy to appreciate a story that doesn’t follow the straight line but finds creative ways to make a statement about familiar themes. The fact that Ria is fickle adds to the mystery of it all. The story is not always cohesive, because at the end it feels like I’ve seen two different movies; the big reveal should have come a little earlier in the story, because by the time the story gets to the reveal, it’s anti-climatic.
Overall, this is a fun movie that explores cultural norms, and if they aren’t adhered to, it could be seen as a rude gesture not to conform. But it is not so much a condemnation of these rules as a critique of them, and why some people choose not to accept these particular rules. It’s always cool to learn new things in inventive ways without having to pile trauma on top of it. The cast is having a good time, especially Bucha who is fantastic as the villain of the story.
Polite society is not perfect, but worth having a good laugh and having fun.
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