Written and Directed by Nida Manzoor | 103 min | ▲▲▲▲△
When I saw the amazing Rye Lane on Disney+ last month, I would not have predicted another comedy coming out of a London suburban immigrant enclave would knock my socks off, but here we are. With this film what we have is less a romcom than an actioncom set in a largely Pakistani community in Shepherd’s Bush, West London, the amazing leads two charismatic young women.
Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) is a teenager with at least two good friends, Clara and Alba (Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri), and one nemesis, Kovacs (Shona Babayemi), and a serious passion for martial arts. Ria’s dream is to become a movie stunt person — she writes her stunt idol, Eunice Huthart, on the regular begging for an internship.
Her parents aren’t keen on this idea, but her sister, Lena (Ritu Arya from The Umbrella Academy), an art-school dropout, is a big believer in Ria. Lena’s not sure about her own future, however, and when she meets a dashing, wealthy young doctor — an arrangement set up through both of their mothers — Lena’s swept off her feet.
Ria’s absolutely opposed to this union, but the question is this: Is Ria wildly unhinged? Is she over-protective of her sister, and desperately afraid that if Lena gives up any dream of being an artist to be a rich man’s bride she’s selling her soul? Or, is this well-groomed fella, Salim (Akshay Khanna), and his domineering mother, Raheela ( Nimra Bucha), up to something… insidious?
The film cleverly doesn’t tip its hat right away. For the first act it could be a charmingly funny coming-of-age comedy about how maybe it’s OK to let your loved ones pursue their own paths in life, and maybe it’s also OK to listen to your parents once in awhile, too. Ria is practically certifiable — when she’s not practicing her spinning hook kick, she’s recruiting her pals for wildly inappropriate plans to spy and collect information about Raheela and Salim in order to convince Lena to back away from this suitor.
And then, all of a sudden, the picture takes a turn into science fiction. That’s one of the things that makes Polite Society so delightful — an utter fearlessness for mashing up genres to largely entertaining effect. Writer-director Manzoor knows her Jackie Chan, and she knows her Bollywood — an industry that tends to be less precious about genre and more enthusiastic about fun.
There’s no doubt she’s also a scholar of the work of Edgar Wright, and more power to her for that. She understands his gift with a well-timed edit and other regular visual gags to bring a bit of chaotic and scrappy humour to the proceedings. Her knack for casting is also right on — I want to see more of both Kansara and Arya based on their amazing energy here delivering an entirely plausible sisterly bond.
Polite Society is a serious joy.