4 out of 5 stars (one of the best of the year)
Polite Society is one of the standout films of 2023. It’s a creative, bonkers, and highly entertaining film about how far one would go for their sibling that manages to marry multiple genres and tones without ever breaking a sweat. Add to that a star-making performance from its lead Priya Kansara and stylish direction from Nida Manzoor (who also writes the screenplay), and you have a film that aims high and largely succeeds to stand above a crowded pack, made all the more impressive when you realize it’s Manzoor’s film directorial debut.
Aspiring stuntwoman Ria (Priya Kansara) and her art school dropout sister Lena Khan (Ritu Arya) are thick as thieves. Though their mother Fatima (Shobu Kapoor) worries about both of their futures, the two sisters know they’ll always have each other’s backs even if it means bucking tradition. That bond is challenged when Lena falls head-over-heels for the handsome and wealthy Salim (Akshay Khanna) and announces her intent to marry him after less than a month. Worried for her sister’s independence and suspicious of Salim, Ria conspires with her BFFs Alba (Ella Bruccoleri) and Clara (Seraphina Beh) to halt Lena’s nuptials, getting in the crosshairs of Salim’s pampered mother Raheela (an excellent Nimra Bucha) in the process.
I love it when a movie can surprise me, and Polite Society did just that. Priya Kansara announces herself a bright new star in the lead here with a charismatic and spunky screen presence that immediately has you rooting for Ria to succeed. Arya and Kapoor also shine here, with the latter especially getting great material to work with in later stages. Writer-director Nida Manzoor walks a tricky tonal tightrope here, balancing raunchy comedy, stylish action sequences, and a surprisingly dark story turn without losing focus on the sibling dynamic at its core. Arya and Kansara’s sisterly chemistry feels authentic, as does the dynamic between Kansara and her friends. These relationships and the relatability of Ria’s plight ensure the stakes remain emotionally grounded even when the story goes gleefully crazy near the end. It made me want to hug my sister.
Polite Society’s biggest flaw is that its second act feels rushed and somewhat conventional at times, but a midfilm turn and absolutely insane 3rd act make up for it. This story easily could have collapsed in on itself in the hands of a lesser director and cast, but thanks to the ones assembled here, it’s a standout of 2023 that should be getting far more recognition. Polite Society is a crazy, fun, and entertaining story of sisterhood that takes a big shot and proudly hits its target. See it.
Rated PG-13 for Some Strong Language, Violence, Sexual Material, and Some Partial Nudity