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Polite Society Sundance Review: An Energetic, Overwhelming Marital Arts Spoof

Polite Society

Nida Manzoor’s Peacock series We Are Lady Parts has amassed quite a cult following, and her feature debut, Polite Society, hopes to do the same by appealing to a younger generation of genre aficionados. While Manzoor’s film is consistently fun and often shows tremendous potential, it struggles to stick the landing in a way that makes it little more than passive entertainment.

The movie follows a teenage girl who wants to grow up to be a stuntwoman as she sets out on a quest to foil her older sister’s wedding, believing that a conspiracy may be afoot. It’s amazing to see a film with such great representation, and such a distinctive personality, but it feels almost as if Manzoor ran out of inspiration after the first act.

Polite Society starts out with an extremely fun opening that sets the stage for a hilariously quirky coming-of-age action comedy. Unfortunately, the movie largely fails to maintain that momentum for the rest of the runtime, which begins to feel more like a spy thriller spoof the likes of which we have seen dozens of times before.

Also Read: Talk to Me Sundance Review: Polished Teen Horror That Squanders Its Potential

Much of the humor in the film derives from the absurdity of the situations, and it does grow monotonous after a while. At times, it feels like it’s almost a bit too kiddy to resonate with older audiences. However, you have to appreciate Manzoor’s visual panache and how it creates a lovably quirky world for the movie.

The action choreography in Polite Society is a ton of fun, but the fight sequences are disappointingly short, lasting only a couple minutes each. It would have been nice to see a bigger-budget version of this where Manzoor was able to fully embrace the absurd, fantasy-heavy elements in the film and make something with a much larger scope.

That being said, when the movie does decide to go more intimate, focusing on the relationship between the protagonist and her older sister, it’s quite endearing. Some of the other characters — such as the protagonist’s classmates/best friends — feel underdeveloped, but Manzoor put the emotion where it counted, the sisterly relationship that serves as the film’s emotional crux.

Priya Kansara has all of the qualities of a star in the making. Her screen presence is exceptional, radiating a charisma that overshadows basically everyone else in the cast. The only performer who can even hold a light to Kansara is Nimra Bucha, whose performance as the antagonist is gleefully over-the-top.

Had Polite Society been able to maintain the same manic energy of the first act throughout its entire runtime, it would have been one of the most fun movies of the year. It’s certainly still enjoyable, but it’s a film with a great premise weighed down by the need to stick to a conventional plot.

Polite Society is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.

 

Rating: 6/10

6 Out of 10

Also Read: Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls Sundance Review: A Zany, Charming Horror-Comedy Mash-Up

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Written by Sean Boelman

Film Critic and member of the CACF.