I missed/overlooked this delightful movie at this year’s SXSW, and now I am kicking myself for not experiencing it with a festival audience. Going into this movie, I had already watched the trailer and was somewhat annoyed with the preview. The entire presentation of that glimpse came across as silly, ridiculous, and grating. Thankfully, despite my initial preconceptions, I enjoyed all this movie has to offer. Is this movie silly, dramatic, and sometimes over-the-top? Yes! However, in her directorial debut, writer/director Nida Manzoor manages to make these elements work well in a very entertaining and heartfelt feature film.
In Britain, Pakistani high school teen Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) aspires to become a stunt woman in action cinema. For some time, Ria has been training in martial arts, has practiced various stunts, and often documents her work on her YouTube channel. These aspirations and those of her older sister Lena have troubled their parents, who both have more traditional desires for their daughters. After Lena struggles with her first year in art school, she returns home dismayed and lost.
This unexpected development frustrates the tenacious Ria, who wants to see her and her sister’s goals come to fruition. However, at this point, Lena is ready to consider the more traditional options for her adult life that her parents want so badly. These options include courting any eligible Pakistani young bachelors seeking wives after dating such a young man in the form of the seemingly perfect Salim (Akshay Khanna). However, this does not sit well with Ria, who attempts to derail her sister’s courtship, engagement, and effort to marry Salim.
While the premise seems ridiculous, the movie proves to be more than just that. The inventive writing and exciting direction by Nida Manzoor make a good case for her protagonist and make the entire affair succeed very well. The movie can be goofy and a bit much at times, but it is all fun and has much to say about subverting archaic, traditional conventions. The solid development of the Ria character makes the film work so well, and her passionate and heartfelt relationship with her sister balances the goofy side of things.
The film features a fantastic cast, and everyone involved understood their assignments. This extraordinary combination of writing, direction, and acting also makes this movie succeed. So, don’t be dissuaded by the trailers for this movie. Polite Society is a fun, thrilling, and winning feature I hope audiences will discover and enjoy as much as I did.