When British-Pakistani teenager Ria Khan finds out that her older sister Lena has fallen for a man and wants to get married, she enlists the help of her friends to stop the wedding, and save her from throwing her life away. While there have been countless films about marriage through cinema history, probably none have had as much high-octane energy – and martial arts – as Polite Society It is easy to envision this explosive debut by British writer-director Nida Manzoor accumulating a devoted following in the vein of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World – the cult action-comedy which it channels effortlessly with its frenetic visual style and implausible combat scenarios. In fact, at different points and sometimes simultaneously, viewers might also be reminded of Kill Bill, Get Out, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Matrix and a variety of other classics, without the film ever feeling derivative or all over the place. Polite Society is a work of many genres and themes: the fact it weaves these together so seamlessly and cohesively is a testament to Manzoor’s prowess with the pen, and behind the lens. It is a film about family and sisterhood. At the heart of it all is Ria, a schoolgirl who aspires to be a stuntwoman, and her love for her older sister. Even though British South Asians are one of the largest minority groups in the UK and despite the success of features like Bend it Like Beckham and East is East, there have been relatively few movies that focus on them. Polite Society brings the dynamics of two very distinct families from that community to the fore – the Khan sisters and their parents on one side and Raheela and her son Salim (Akshay Khanna), who is set to marry Lena, on the other. Raheela is the overbearing mother and Salim is the mummy’s boy. Their creepy co-dependency and love is very different from the Khans, where the parents are torn between supporting their headstrong daughters, whose dreams and ambitions they don’t understand, and having their family conform to community expectations of tradition and respectability. The film lays bare the toxicity of such societal pressures, from the way Ria’s teacher pushes her towards a career as a doctor instead of what she is passionate about, to the manner in which older characters cast judgement on younger ones’ marital status and prospects. However, it is important to note that Lena chooses to marry Salim, a handsome and successful geneticist and isn’t strong-armed into an arranged marriage by her parents, as would be stereotypical for a film centred on British South Asian characters. Manzoor was adamant about not featuring a forced marriage plotline despite pressure from many movie executives to do so when developing the script over the years. It is a creative choice that adds layers to the narrative. It would have been so much simpler for the audience to root against a marriage where Lena doesn’t have much agency. Ria being hell bent on sabotaging a relationship where her sister is seemingly smitten makes her actions more questionable at first. Among other things, Polite Society is also a coming-of-age story. Ria is a teenager. She can be brash and immature. At one point, unable to find any dirt on Salim, she tries to frame him for philandering by planting condoms filled with hand lotion. She is also an entertainingly unreliable narrator. The film leans into this aspect, playing up the melodrama and heightened stakes with overdramatic stare downs and fantastical action sequences which see her battle a slew of opponents such as her school bully, sadistic beauticians, disapproving aunties and her sister’s future mother-in-law. Underneath it all, though, she also has an optimism and zest for life that shines through in her unwavering quest to become a stuntperson and one-sided correspondence with her idol (real-life British stuntwoman Eunice Huthart). Dreams are a very significant theme in the movie. The Khan sisters are at odds because, unlike Ria, Lena has decided to abandon her dream of becoming an artist. It could be argued that the fact Lena is lost and consumed with self-doubt makes her easier prey for Salim and his mother who, it transpires, do have malicious intent. Ria certainly thinks so. Raheela, on the other hand, dreams of a do-over for herself to live a life where she wasn’t held back by the patriarchy and achieved her true potential. The director successfully juxtaposes Ria and Raheela, the protagonist and antagonist; one still possessing a youthful exuberance, while the other is embittered and resentful. Ria dismisses Raheela’s assertion that they are both alike, but it isn’t difficult to imagine the teenage heroine being forced down a similar path to her nemesis, should society keep pushing her down. Indeed, in a film about smashing the patriarchy, Raheela makes for a fascinating villain. Manzoor has fun with the concept of a matriarch upholding the patriarchy. On the surface, the character has liberal views that set her apart from other more conservative minded women in the South Asian community. For example, she has no issues with her future daughter in law sleeping over at their place before marriage. “We women shouldn’t have to hide our bodies,” she preaches to Salim and Lena at one point. Yet, without giving too much away, she has no qualms about using another woman’s body without consent to achieve her goals. Manzoor might have written the initial draft of Polite Society over a decade ago, but the discourse around women’s rights and bodily autonomy is as polarised as ever, so the way the story develops on this front makes it feel especially pertinent now. Meanwhile, Nimra Bucha certainly deserves all the plaudits that should come her way for her fabulously unhinged and evil portrayal of Raheela. Polite Society is an action-packed, genre-blending delight that fires on all cylinders. Everything – from the writing to the cinematography, the performances, the choreography and the soundtrack – is on point, and it has all the requisite ingredients to be an exhilarating experience for audiences that come along for the ride.