de facto film reviews 3 stars

A British-Pakistani teenage girl fights for her dreams as a stunt woman as well as her older sister’s dreams of becoming an artist in Polite Society, a spectacular and hilarious hybrid of genre-mixing set in a patriarchal world that wants to undermine individuals’ talents and pursuits in exchange for maintaining the status quo. In her debut feature, writer-director Nida Manzoor assembles a zany movie with various genre tropes and turns the film into a subversive satire about social attitudes in this femme-driven film that is both amusing with its writing and exhilarating with its martial-arts choreography. While the film derails a bit in the second half with a big reveal that feels like it belongs in a sitcom, the film also offers enough eccentric charm and an impressive first hour and a stirring climax to make up for its shortcomings.

The film stars newcomer Priya Kansara in a very impressive debut role as Ria, a 17-year-old high schooler who is trained in martial arts and has aspirations to be a stuntwoman but is also determined to obstruct her older sister’s. Upcoming marriage to a charming, handsome, and wealthy doctor whom she can only see through his controlling and menacing ways. Both Manzoor and Kansara have great collaborative energy, and you can see this shine through in each frame. Kansara does her own stunts, and she has the animated spirit of a younger Michelle Yeoh or Jackie Chan. I really hope they both work together again, and I hope to see Kanara in more action films in the near future.

Film Review: POLITE SOCIETY: Performances and Dialog Triumph Over Spotty Logic in Zany Mishmash [Sundance 2023] | FilmBook Courtesy Focus Features 

Her character, Ria Khan, is a delight. A young woman who is smart, determined, and destined to not conform to society’s expectations and social norms. She has her own YouTube channel, where she practices her martial arts moves, and her mind is already made up that she wants to be a stuntwoman. Of course, this dream is laughed at by her prep school classmates and teacher, and she is certainly not supported by her bourgeoisie-inspired parents, Fatima and Rafe (Shobu Kapoor and Jeff Meriz). Her old sister Lena (Rita Arya) also fails to get encouragement or moral support from her parents and friends as she returns home after dropping out of art school. Ria truly understands she has talent, and she’s very encouraging to Lena to stay persistent, as this causes all sorts of family dysfunction with the Khan family.

During a party gathering where Ria’s mother is invited by a family friend and sideline hater, Raheela (Nimra Bucha), who basically sets up a party of many young women to introduce women to her son Salim (Akshay Khanna), The film’s narrative really ignites once Lena ends up falling for Salim, who appears to be a suitable husband. Rena ends up getting engaged to Salim, and she begins to persuade herself that she isn’t good enough to be an artist. Ria is shattered by these revelations, along with her best friends from school, Alba (Ella Bruccoleri) and Clara (Seraphina Beh), who all tend to pry, spy, and even hack into Salim’s computer in hopes of finding something shady about him. One of the most hilarious set-pieces involves Salim disguising herself as a guy with a fake moustache at the local gym Salim works out at.

Polite Society' Review: Action Comedy About a British-Pakistani Teen – The Hollywood Reporter Courtesy Focus Features 

We get a sense from Manzoor that she not only has a skill for social commentary and humor, but for martial arts too. We get the sense that her style is certainly influenced by Tarantino’s Kill Bill in terms of structure, as each film is presented in chapters, with many cartoonish villains where Ria finds herself often losing most of her combats, but she brings enough psychical skill and charm to the role that you can’t help but admire her commanding performance.

It’s possible the big twist towards the end of the second act of the film doesn’t work as well. Where Salim has alternative motives for marrying Lena, it ends up moving genres quite quickly. Especially how Raheela is depicted as this one-dimensional caricature that feels just as cartoonish as any Disney villain. However, the film is able to pull through these quibbles, and it bounces back as everything in the third act pays off well with how expertly staged and shot it is. In specific, the colors, decor, and wardrobe add some Middle Eastern flavor to the inevitable martial arts show that ends on a very rousing note. Both Monzeer and newcomer Priya Kansara are some fresh new faces and voices in the cinematic medium. Together, they deliver enough impressive stunt work, and with enough dazzling action choreography and some smart social commentary. With that, Polite Society is a satisfying experience.

POLITE SOCIETY is now playing in theaters