The next time you find yourself scrolling through streaming services, looking for something that is going to please you, your partner, your housemate, your mum (or whatever range of diverse people you have gathered in your living room that makes you despair for your chances of pleasing them all), Polite Society would be a solid choice. I saw it as a part of the launch event for Dendy’s new premium lounge menu, so I can imagine the choice for screening it was the result of a line of thought much like the one I’ve described above. And it works as a crowd pleaser, thanks to the tried-and-true blend of adventure, comedy, and heartfelt family drama.
We follow Ria, a teenager growing up in a British Pakistani family who is fiercely battling for a future in which she can pursue her aspiration of becoming a stuntwoman. Refreshingly, we don’t get the lazy cliché of overbearing parents. In fact, Ria’s Mum and Dad are sweet and supportive. No, the threats to Ria’s dream stem from its own outlandishness and the slow encroachment of adult life (in all of its humdrum plainness) that Ria feels when her older sister Lena gives up on her studies in art and welcomes a parent-approved match with a very rich and handsome young British Pakistani man.
Ria’s stunt training pays off when the battle for her future becomes literally that, and she is led into a series of martial arts showdowns with various figures in her life. These encounters, along with the comic book aesthetic of the titles and cinematography, give an Edgar Wright-esque heightened realism to the movie. But the comps don’t stop there. You can often feel director Nida Manzoor and producers reaching for styles and set ups with proven track records. The espionage missions Ria attempts with the help of her comedic sidekick school friends for example, are reminiscent of Mean Girls and many others.
The story plays out predictably and twists against narrative consistency for the sake of convenience. We are asked to doubt our protagonist when doing so will lead her to moments of self-revelation, but then her fantasies are validated with it becomes necessary for following through on the action-adventure elements of the plot.
But these inconsistencies are ultimately unimportant, and your enjoyment of the film won’t be impacted much when all the capers, fight sequences and the climactic musical number don’t live up to the films that inspired them. That’s because the story is genuine and relatable, and because of the extreme likeability of Ria (played by Priya Kansara) and her sister Lena (Ritu Arya). Both play the uncivilised siblings with so much passion and humour, that you, your little brat sister, your aunts and grandparents and their dogs will all happily watch and cheer them on.