Polite Society

Sundance 2023: Polite Society Review

Coming off of a year where audiences finally saw an influx of female-driven action films, it is encouraging to see that trend continue with Polite Society. A delightful blend of comedy and action, Nida Manzoor’s debut feature leaves a goofy smile on one’s face throughout. Part of this is due to Priya Kansara’s star-making turn as Ria Khan, a teen who refuses to give up on her family or her dreams.

A high schooler who studies martial arts in her spare time, Ria wants nothing more than to become a professional stunt woman. While her teacher and classmates mock her life goals, her big sister Lena (Ritu Arya) never waivers in her support. Despite dropping out of art school, and unsure of what path she should take, Lena still finds time to help Ria make martial videos for her younger sister’s Youtube channel. A united front, especially when their parents start talking about wanting them to have more suitable career aspirations, the sisterly bond is seemingly unbreakable.

The sturdy pillars that keep the bridge of their relationship intact become shaky when the good-looking Salim (Akshay Khanna), son of the wealthy Shah family, enters the picture. Before Ria can process the inclusion of this new unknown variable, Lena and Salim are talking marriage and planning to move to Singapore. Stunned that her sister would give up everything to be a trophy wife, and suspicious of the controlling matriarch (Nimra Bucha) of the Shah clan, Ria puts a plan in motion, with the help of her loyal friends, to infiltrate the wedding and save her sister from a lifetime of regret.

While Manzoor’s film provides some justification for Ria’s paranoia, Polite Society is far more interested in the thrill of the chase rather than the cause of it. In its own offbeat way, the film ponders the great change that the sisters are embarking on. As Ria notes in one scene, her sister’s marriage has huge ramifications for her as well. If Lena gives up her dream of being an artist, then what hope does she have in achieving her own dreams.


Using the sisters’ shifting dynamics as a springboard, Manzoor infuses her film with plenty of humour and colourful action to keep the film moving at a brisk pace. Wearing its influences on its sleeve, the film is a melting pot of cultures and cinematic references. There is an amusing reference to The Matrix, a wonderful Bollywood dance number, plenty of sequences inspired by Hong Kong action films that use “wire fu” and more.

Polite Society may take its inspiration from various places, but still manages to have its own distinct feel. Priya Kansara’s commanding performance makes the film’s mixture of genres feel natural. She carries the film on her back like a seasoned veteran, each step unveiling another charming aspect of her talent.

Kansara also allows the film to walk the fine line of silly humour and kick-ass girl power. Playing it like a teen comedy, one with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World style fight scenes, there are several fist pumping moments. One cannot help but cheer when watching the sisters take out four judgmental women, while wearing their traditional wedding attire.

As fun as the film is, Manzoor’s script could have been tighter. While the sisters are well fleshed out, several of the supporting characters feel rather one-note. This causes some of the gags to falter as the film occasionally feels as if it is biding time until the next action sequence. Fortunately, the film is entertaining enough for one to overlook its shortcomings. A charming action comedy that knows exactly what it is, Polite Society announces Nida Manzoor as a director to keep an eye on.


Polite Society is screening as a part of Sundance’s Midnight programme.

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