Rise up lovers of the series ‘We Are Lady Parts,’ as that show’s creator has now made a feature debut that proves to be just as joyous.
Lena, the older sister, has recently dropped out of art school and is struggling to get back into creating. Ria, the younger sister, aspires to be a stunt performer, though can’t quite get one move down. The duo finds support in each other with Lena even filming videos for Ria that she uploads online in the hopes of breaking into the industry. When staring down a life where they may not achieve their dreams, they always have the other in their corner to fight off any and all challenges. However, this relationship is soon going to be tested by the most terrifying prospect of all: marriage.
Enter the dashing Salim (Akshay Khanna), who suddenly takes a deep interest in Lena and begins going on a whirlwind of dates with her. While she is initially skeptical, she soon gets swept off her feet by this handsome doctor with a heart of gold. Sure, his mother Raheela, played by a scene-stealing Nimra Bucha, is rather controlling and always seems to be just hanging around, but Lena genuinely seems to love Salim. Aghast at this development that could result in her losing her sister and fellow dreamer, Ria sets about to figure out how she can disrupt the impending nuptials. She won’t be alone in doing so as she recruits her friends Clara (Seraphina Beh) and Alba (Ella Bruccoleri) to assist her. The three hatch a series of escalating plans as Ria remains certain that there is something nefarious going on with Salim and that only she is able to get to the bottom of it. This stems from how everyone else, including her own sister, doesn’t believe that there is anything amiss and that she is just desperate to not lose touch with her close sibling. As such, the film is very much about the silliness of the spectacle while still having a strong emotional throughline to tie it all together.
With that in mind, the experience is defined by how it keeps its head in the clouds even as its feet remain on the ground. At multiple moments, Ria will get into big brawls that throw all sense of reality out the window in triumphant fashion. From when she tussles with a school bully to her own sister, everything and anything is made destructible as the camera dances around the dueling fighters. Even as the sequences can get quite brutal in a rather uproarious sense, the film stays light on its feet and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is not an outright parody, but it plays around with a whole host of genres with an ease that proves to be exhilarating. Even just a series of recurring moments where Ria will stare out of her window takes on a comedic life of their own as it skewers the visual language of a thriller to excellent effect.
Central to this is the performance from Kansara who, already in her relatively short career, has all the makings of a star. She can fully dive into the moments of silly slapstick just as she does the more nuanced emotional beats about trying to find your way in the world. Of course, she isn’t the only one as the rest of the cast also all shine. In particular, Beh and Bruccoleri as Ria’s friends are each wonderful. They bring their characters to life with a natural charisma that makes every already funny joke and wacky aside land all the better. You truly believe that all of these characters could be friends and, even as the story intentionally goes off the rails, it is their connections to each other that keep things on track. In many ways, the film loses some of its more simple yet no less effective exhilaration when it gets to the conclusion. There is still plenty of fun to be had as it throws everything into turmoil, but the same sense of cheekiness that crackled through the earlier chapters that the story splits itself into isn’t quite there. Much of this comes from how the film isn’t afraid to increasingly embrace a prevailing sense of earned sincerity and sweetness that makes it hard to dismiss it for doing so.
When the pieces all come together, you come to deeply care about each one of these characters. For all the ways the sisters would have a go at each other, the bond they have comes from a shared desire to break free of the mold they have been told they must live within. As they get caught up in increasing chaos and must fight against these conservative expectations that dictate how they’re supposed to behave, it is joyous to just see them utterly smash through everything in their path. The film, much like the characters themselves, will always get back up even when it stumbles and falls. It is an underdog story of sorts while also being five other films at the same time. Rather than feel overstuffed, everything flows naturally through all the tonal swings and genre shifts. It packs an awareness of the films it is drawing from, ensuring that each new step it takes has a strong foundation underneath it. When it all takes to the air and kicks you squarely in the head, Polite Society proves to be a triumphant action comedy with wonderful characters you only wish you could get to know even more.
Polite Society debuted at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Polite Society comes to theaters on April 28.