There is nothing as painful as being a teenage girl. Where every sibling spat feels like a punch to the face and every betrayal, a kick to the stomach. Director Nida Manzoor gives these emotions authority in her hilarious feature debut Polite Society.
Ria Kahn (Priya Kansara) enjoys a relatively peaceful existence as a schoolgirl with a perhaps overly active imagination. She spends her time dreaming of becoming a stunt woman and filming videos with her art-school drop-out sister Lena (Umbrella Academy’s Ritu Arya).
But when Lena gets engaged to Doctor Salim (Akshay Khanna), a seemingly perfect mummy’s boy. Ria will stop at nothing to save her sister, and prove herself in the process.
Over-the-top violence is seemingly part of everyday life as confrontation is solved with a good roundhouse kick to the face, not a coffee and a chat.
Polite society sets itself apart from comedies of the last decade for its unabashed welcome of silliness. It doesn’t care for your comedy dramas or action comedies. It squarely plants itself in the genre with plenty of stunts and feeling thrown in for good measure.
“Every slap, flying kick, and throat punch told a story.”
The fight scenes in particular are brilliant, operating almost like intense monologues by fuelling the plot. The stunt coordination team should have got a writing credit for the artistry they demonstrated in each move. Every slap, flying kick and throat punch told a story.
Speaking of which, Nida Manzoor’s exhilarating script is a thing to behold, it switches genres smoothly and with purpose. It becomes a western bar fight during a school brawl and wanders onto a Bollywood set when the true villain is finally unmasked.
This doesn’t always work. The story fumbles when these genre-bending antics go too far and we find ourselves in sci-fi territory. While it still doesn’t skimp on the laughs, the shift goes slightly too far and makes the audience feel alien in an otherwise comforting film.
Despite this stumble, Manzoor is blessed with an exceptional cast, who understand completely the tone and world they inhabit. Newcomer Kansara leads them perfectly, playing the quintessential self-involved teenager with good (if misplaced) intentions.
“It is refreshing to have a female protagonist play the screw-up with a heart of gold.”
Ria is an exciting blend between Little Woman’s Jo March and Scott Pilgrim. She is fiercely loyal as she is ridiculous, and sure to be a firm favourite among audiences.
It is refreshing to have a female protagonist play the screw-up with a heart of gold. It’s a welcome change from the endless onslaught of female characters cast aside and forced to play the straight man in comedies. Polite Society celebrates women’s wrongs as well as their rights.
This is especially revolutionary coming from a Muslim character. Manzoor is known for her irreverent channel 4 sitcom We Are Lady Parts, a sitcom about a female Muslim punk band. Polite Society carries on this legacy by incorporating Ria and Lena’s culture into their world without making it their entire lives. It is lovely to see a Muslim family sitting around the kitchen table talking about their plans for Hari Raya Haji and that be it.
Nida Manzoor’s feature debut may falter but it’s a hilarious depiction of a teenage girl’s mind, and the lengths she would go to protect her family. Polite Society is the next classic British comedy.
Polite Society was screened as part of the Glasgow Film Festival’s programme. Brig’s coverage can be found here.
Polite Society is out in the UK on April 7.
Featured Image Credit: Glasgow Film Festival
Film and Tv Editor at Brig Newspaper. Currently studying Journalism and English at the University of Stirling
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