Some want to fit in; some want to stand out. Some want to raise healthy and happy babies; others crave financial security above all else. We all have goals, and teenager Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) wants to be a stuntwoman when she grows up. With a poster of Eunice Huthart over her bed and a YouTube channel she produces with her sister, Khan-Fu, Ria is headed in the right direction and knows it. She also knows that older sister Lena (Ritu Arya) is meant to be a great artist—even if Lena doesn’t seem quite as committed to that particular goal.

Written and directed by Nida Manzoor, Polite Society is a sister story mashed up with shades of Jane Austen, Spaghetti Westerns, Looney Tunes, and Jackie Chan. Befitting of a young girl with dramatic dreams, Ria has an overactive imagination that flummoxes her parents (Shobu Kapoor and Jeff Mirza) and gives the movie its heightened style, complete with chapter titles, fight cards, slow motion, fast cuts, and gravity-defying acrobatics that make the movie both fun and funny.

Conflict arises when Lena leaves the art world behind—and Ria’s notion of independence—and takes a fiancée, Salim (Akshay Khanna), a wealthy, fit doctor with some mommy issues but an otherwise seemingly decent fellow. Ria suspects chicanery, and goes to great extremes to expose Salim and his mother (Nimra Bucha) for who they are, then launches a smear campaign when that doesn’t work.

For roughly an hour, Polite Society basks in the trappings of British Pakistani culture, the fight for and against traditionalism and upward mobility, and the constant subversion of Ria’s expectations. Her overactive imagination might be just that. But then the narrative takes a hard left turn into some seriously icky territory that seems unbalanced with what the rest of the movie is going for. Manzoor tries to right the ship at the end with a reunion of the sisters, but that twist leaves quite the aftertaste.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Polite Society (2023)
Written and directed by Nida Manzoor
Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Olivier Kaempfer, John Pocock
Starring: Priya Kansara, Ritu Arya, Shobu Kapoor, Jeff Mirza, Akshay Khanna, Nimra Bucha, Seraphina Beh, Ella Bruccoleri, Shona Babayem
Focus Features, Rated PG-13, Running time 103 minutes, Opens April 28, 2023