A few months ago, I had heard enough stellar things about RRR that I decided to give it a shot. To say I was floored was an understatement. I may have seen it in January–after all of my Best Of 2022 lists were out–but had I caught RRR in time for those lists, it likely would have topped them. If nothing else, it would have managed a three-way tie for Movie Of The Year with Everything Everywhere All At Once and Good Luck To You Leo Grande.
And with a much shorter title than either of those movies managed!
Since being enamored with RRR, I started dipping my toes into other Bollywood and Tollywood flicks. Netflix offered up Bahubali 1 and Bahubali 2–both by RRR’s own S.S. Rajamouli–as well as the superb Anhadhun. My feets’ digits may barely be moist, but hey… I’m getting there.
Then a few months ago, I caught a trailer for Polite Society, which is NOT a Bollywood movie–it is very English in every sense of that word–but it features a Pakistani cast and promised some Bollywood-esque sensibilities*. With how fun it looked, it just became a matter of waiting for the release date.
*There is an EXTREMELY complicated history with the dynamic between Pakistan and Bollywood, which is an Indian property. There have been several Pakistani stars in the latter’s history, but there have also been bans across the two countries that have worked to keep Bollywood and its neighbors from inter-mingling. I promise I have done a bit of research on this front and am trying not to assume Bollywood is a Pakistani thing. But Polite Society did advertise extreme, borderline absurd in their fun action set pieces and extravagant outfits, which feel influenced by the Indian cinematic juggernaut.
ANYWAY… this weekend, out it came!
Polite Society is the story of two sisters. Lena is an art school dropout without much direction in life and who is still living at home with her family. Younger sister Ria is a high school student with passion for becoming a professional stunt woman. Played respectively by Ritu Arya and Priya Kansara, the sisters have delightful chemistry. They bicker and argue, but also deeply love each other, and they each whole-heartedly support the other’s endeavors.
When a wealthy family friend sets up Lena with her son, Salim, Ria starts noticing a change in her big sister, and she dedicates every ability at her disposal to stopping it. In the course of doing so, she alienates her parents, her best friends, the family friend, and Lena herself. But Ria realizes she’s not just doing what she’s doing for her own sake; she has a sneaking suspicion Salim is not on the up-and-up.
With Lena’s wedding imminent–after just a month of dating–Ria ramps up her efforts and comes up with one final plan to save her sister once and for all.
Polite Society is honestly less Bollywood than it is… Scott Pilgrim. It’s not quite THAT off-the-wall eccentric, but you can tell it was at least somewhat of an inspiration due to the fight sequences. Which isn’t to say there isn’t SOME traces of Bollywood style filmmaking here (we do get a dance number in the third act), but it’s not quite the same as many of those I’ve seen.
TWO UPS AND TWO DOWNS
+I love me some well-managed nonsense, and Polite Society absolutely delivers on that front. We get video game style “Versus” title cards when characters are about to fight. Teenage girls invading a men’s locker room at a gym. And a fight scene between Lena and Ria that will leave you bewildered. The siblings smash each others’ faces off of glass frames, obliterate doors, and brawl across the upper floor of their home. And then, when their parents yell to knock it off, they just stop. And no one acts like anything is out of the ordinary.
This is a movie that is not afraid to have fun. Even if you were somehow able to forget Ria’s ludicrously silly plans to break up her sister’s engagement (one involves leaving tied-off condoms full of moisturizer lying around), the fight scenes, and Ria’s bizarre friends… you are still left with an ultimate reveal straight out of a bad comic book movie. Everything here is a swing for the fences, and I love it.
+This movie was always going to sink or swim based on the performances and rapport of Arya and Kansara, and you might as well call them Michael Phelps. They are basically flawless in their roles. You could argue that Lena gets a little too easily swept up in things with Silam given her earlier skepticism, but it’s believable when you remember she is a young woman who has lost her purpose in life and may just be clinging to a lifeline. And so Arya sells her desperate need to believe.
Kansara as Ria is a dynamo of energy and fury, and she just never stops. It seems like they loaded her up on 50 cups of coffee and set her loose on set every day. She is spirit personified, and it makes Ria so cheerable, while also being just grating enough that you wonder if she is based enough in reality to be what Lena needs in a sister.
-The movie is a breezy 103 minutes, and while I typically appreciate that, I can’t help but wonder if they couldn’t have squeezed another ten minutes or so in. I would have liked a bit more insight into Lena giving up on her art. I might have needed to see a touch more of Ria surrendering to the idea that she was wrong. What Polite Society does, it does really well. But it was one of the rare movies I thought wasn’t quite long enough. So maybe it could have done MORE well!
–The reveal in this one might not be for everyone. I feel like if you are on board with the first two acts, when you get to third, you are going to say “Sure, movie; you might as well do this”. But even for what you’ve seen to that point, it’s a bizarre kind of twist.
And since that’s a situational, personal flavor kind of Down (that wasn’t even a Down for ME at all), I’ll throw in a small, one mini-Down: The movie spends an inordinate amount of time showing that Ria is a fan of a particular stunt woman, and she send emails to this lady like she is writing in a diary. The payoff to this plot point is not nearly worth the time invested.
Polite Society fits a lot of fun in a small package, and just when you think it can’t get any weirder, it manages to turn the strangeness up even more. An easy run time and a wildly likable cast make this a highly enjoyable flick.