Having revitalised pandemic-exhausted TV viewers in 2021 with We Are Lady Parts, her award-winning sitcom about an all-female Muslim punk band, writer-director Nida Manzoor sets her sights on the big screen with a lively debut feature.
West London teenage martial arts fanatic Ria (Priya Kansara) dreams of becoming a stuntwoman and makes older sister Lena (Ritu Arya) film her efforts for YouTube in between writing letters to her idol Eunice Huthart, Britain’s best-known real-life stuntwoman. The Pakistani-British siblings are close, with the headstrong Ria full of admiration for art-school dropout Lena. Their partnership is threatened when the pair attend an Eid party and Lena meets a wealthy doctor from a posh family. Soon, Salim wants to marry Lena and move to Singapore and distraught Ria is trying to sabotage their relationship.
Polite Society’s frantic pacing and wild invention is mirrored by Kansara’s livewire performance as Ria. She’ll try anything, and so will the film. There’s much fun to be had leaping from high-school conflict (Ria’s exploits aren’t popular with all her classmates) to sizzling martial arts action scenes, to slapstick espionage, to sci-fi/horror via class-conflict drama, as Salim’s mother Raheela (a deliciously evil Nimra Bucha) condescends to Ria’s poorer family.
She bites off more than she can chew in trying out so many filmmaking styles
Not everything works. The basic plot about someone trying to stop a wedding has been old hat since the days of Jane Austen (the connection is even voiced by Lena) and the twist is one many viewers will have come across before. And as exciting as proceedings are, Manzoor, like Ria, bites off more than she can chew in trying out so many filmmaking styles.
But even if it lacks the multiversal flexes of Everything Everywhere All at Once and feels just as busy, Polite Society is bundles of fun and announces Manzoor as an exciting, energetic filmmaker to watch.
Polite Society premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. In UK cinemas Apr 28