Eye For Film >> Movies >> Polite Society (2023) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
A devil-may-care approach in terms of plotting meets a careful attention to crafting detail in this riotous debut from Nida Manzoor. It’s a coming-of-age film with kick-ass moves and a spirit so punk-minded it powers past any questions you may have about plausibility.
Teenager Ria (Priya Kansara, remember the name, her star is surely on the rise) lives with her elder sister Lena (Ritu Arya) and her parents (ex-EastEnders regular Shobu Kapoor and Jeff Mirza). Ria spends her days hanging out with her mates Alba (Call The Midwife’s Ella Bruccoleri) and Clara (Seraphina Beh) and dreaming of becoming a stunt woman like her idol Eunice Huthart (a real-life artist who doubled for Angelina in Tomb Raider among other jobs).
Ria and Lena are tight, with the older sibling often being enlisted to shoot some of Ria’s stunt moves - including a particularly tricky spin kick she’s been working on, if only she could fully deliver it after declaring: “I am the fury!” Tight, that is, until Lena - who has also recently dropped out of art school - starts to fall for the charms of Salim (Ashkay Khanna), whose upper-class family are just part of the reason Ria dislikes him.
Ria’s character is nicely poised. Part of why she dislikes Salim is borne out of not wanting to see her sister throw away her art in favour of marriage, but there’s also a seed of jealousy there that lends the film a rich seam of ambivalence. As Ria enlists her mates to dig dirt on Salim, while also locking horns with his possessive mother Raheela (Nimra Bucha, delightfully devious), the scene is set for everything from a Bollywood pastiche dance sequence, to martial arts action and a gym heist.
Manzoor operates a controlled chaos that blends the colour and splendour of Bollywood with sly British satire reminiscent of early Edgar Wright. There’s also more than a suggestion of Ealing school comedy about some of the scenes with her mates, as they ‘man up’ for a gym theft and in a stand-off with school bully Kovacs (Shona Babayemi). As the costumes become increasingly lavish in the build-up to the wedding, the plot also becomes more outrageous but given the heightened nature of the film - which breaks off into action fights almost on a whim - Manzoor makes it easy to go along for the ride.
Despite the general mayhem there’s a watchmaking level of precision at work. Like many films at Sundance this year, there’s notably good production design - and it’s no surprise that Simon Walker has Downton Abbey in his credits - and excellent costume design from PC Williams (who, like many involved with this film, also worked on Manzoor’s Channel 4 series We Are Lady Parts).The love of the filmmaker and her actors for the characters is also infectious while, Manzoor’s set-pieces are sharply executed to deliver an impressive tension to laugh ratio. The wheels may threaten to come off once or twice, but Manzoor shows us that its when contact with the rails is thinnest the sparks really start to fly.Reviewed on: 14 Feb 2023