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Polite Society runs in a number of different directions, which is both advantageous and deleterious to its effectiveness as a popular entertainment.

I Am the Fury!

Ria Khan (Priya Kansara)
Ria Khan (Priya Kansara)

To spell out the storyline of Polite Society in detail would make the movie sound absolutely ridiculous, like some sort of bizarre horror movie spoof. It would also be a terrible spoiler because Polite Society is actually a spirited comedy. It is fair to say, though, the big reveal is wild, surprising, funny and bizarre.

It’s a story told in five chapters. The first title sums it up: “A Tale of Two Sisters.”

One sister, Ria Khan (Priya Kansara), dreams of being a stuntwoman and she idolizes the very real Eunice Huthart, a Champion of Champions in the Gladiators competitions who’s now a sought-after stunt coordinator in Hollywood, working on Marvel and Star Wars projects.

The other sister, Lena Khan (Ritu Arya), dreams of being an artist. Lena tends to dress on the frumpy side and is particularly fond of black hoodies. She trades in her personal fashion trademarks for cardigans after she starts dating a mommy’s boy named Salim Shah (Akshay Khanna). He’s physically fit and has nice teeth — both important plusses — and he also wants to take Lena to an island (Singapore; England’s also an island, but... never mind).

Ria freaks out at this unforeseen development. Her sister’s rapid-paced courtship (becoming engaged after only a month) is the beginning of the end of all their dreams. In Ria’s worldview, they’re both doomed. Ria tends to live on the dramatic side, colorfully caricaturizing people and exaggerating situations in her mind’s eye. She also unwisely picks fights with other schoolgirls and repeatedly fails to stick want she wants to be her signature kick, the “540,” a jump kick requiring a 540-degree spin.

Ria thinks Salim’s mother, Raheela (Nimra Bucha), is pure evil. Between Salim and Raheela, Ria’s picking up on some sort of nefarious plot to entrap her beloved sister. But is it all a figment of her vivid imagination, a response to her losing control of her fantasy destiny with her sibling? Maybe it’s something even worse. Maybe she’s jealous of Lena.

Jade Austen

Polite Society hits its stride in the third act. That’s when the fantasy and the reality start to merge and Ria’s mental state is made clear. One scene in particular snaps all the pieces together. That scene revolves around Ria getting a waxing in preparation for her sister’s wedding. The service is courtesy of Raheela, whose dramatic intonations and posturing position her as a sort of Bond villain.

But that also heightens the mixed emotions Polite Society engenders. Much as the movie is a tale of two sisters, it’s also a tale of two reactions.

On the one hand, it’s a lighthearted and very colorful coming of age story revolving around two young ladies contending with their Indian heritage and the “polite society” of London that tries to push them into traditional gender roles, lifestyles and career paths. That leads to some terrific story elements, including comical, over-the-top fights between Ria and a variety of adversaries, most notably something akin to a boss battle between her and Raheela. The choreography — and stagecraft — of the fights and the dances is very well done.

And the diverse, fresh faces both in front of and behind the cameras is welcome, particularly when seeing the young ladies, Ria and Lena, as heroes in their own life story.

That’s the “Polite Society is great” reaction.

The Dork Side

Lena Khan (Ritu Arya)
Lena Khan (Ritu Arya)

Director Nida Manzoor — the creator, writer and director of the We Are Lady Parts series streaming on Peacock — keeps the presentation lively and makes nods to Quentin Tarantino, John Hughes, teen comedies of yore and other pop culture influences.

The mash-up works during the setup, particularly the mystery surrounding Salim and Ria’s humorous misadventures in trying to find dirt on the guy. He sounds too good to be true as he talks about working on a lab to support women’s health in the wake of his first wife’s death while in labor. He wants to make sure no other woman ever suffers that fate.

Great. But is all that a cover, a ploy to lure women into helping him start a family of super babies? Or maybe something even more outrageous?

That’s where the “Polite Society is okay” reaction comes into play.

The humor is a mixed bag of material that works and material that misses the mark. In the end, much like Ria trying to stick the 540, Polite Society doesn’t quite land on both feet.