Ria looks into the camera held by her older sister, Lena. “The gods whispered to the warrior, ‘You will not withstand the fury,” Ria says. “The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the fury!’” And with that, Ria jumps into the air to show off her epic spinning kick.
Thud. “Ow!” she exclaims.
Such is the life of an aspiring stunt woman. Sure, it’s got its ups and downs. But Ria is confident that one day her dream will come true, just as she’s certain that Lena’s passion to be an artist will come to fruition, too. So Ria decides that she’ll practice some more once she and her family get back from the Eid Mubarak celebration at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
But it’s here that Lena becomes entranced with Salim, a handsome, wealthy man working in the field of genetics. And wouldn’t you know it, Salim seems pretty interested in her, too. Soon, they’re dating, which Ria finds outrageous. Then, they’re engaged to be married—and Lena’s thrown her art supplies away, leaving Ria convinced that Salim is bad news.
You want proof that Salim’s up to no good? Well, for starters, he describes Lena using words like “kind” and “generous.” Pfft. Yeah, right. Doesn’t he know that Lena is an aspiring artist? The correct description, therefore, would be egotistical.
Oh … is that not enough proof for you that Salim is a bad guy? Well, Ria will get some more … er … as soon as she can find it under all that genetic research dedicated to saving the lives of babies. There’s gotta be something foul hidden under all that charm! There has to be.
Because if there’s not, then Lena will stay with him. And if Lena stays with him, she won’t pursue her art anymore. And if Lena won’t continue her dream … then what about Ria’s stunt-woman aspirations?
Ria and Lena have a generally positive sibling relationship. And even though it gets strained to the point that the two engage in somewhat slapstick hand-to-hand combat, they eventually make up and apologize for being rude to one another. Even though Lena is upset with Ria for trying undermine her relationship with Salim, she admits that she appreciates Ria for caring enough to worry about it.
As for Ria, part of her suspicions about Salim come from insecurity. When Lena starts dating him, she stops painting, eventually tossing out her supplies altogether. But Ria was convinced that Lena would be a great artist, and she’s worried that if Lena gives up on her artistic dreams, then maybe Ria’s deep desire to become a stunt woman won’t come to fruition, either. Eventually, however, Lena reassures Ria that she’ll be a great stunt woman even if Lena doesn’t pick up art again.
Ria frequently references a quote: “The gods whispered to the warrior, ‘You will not withstand the fury.’ The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the fury!’”
Ria’s family attends Eid Mubarak, an Islamic festival. We also hear characters use phrases like “Insha’Allah,” which means, “If God wills it.” Ria and Lena discuss whether gods would be fit or fat. Someone says, “With Allah as my witness.”
When Ria sneaks into into a men’s locker room and sees the naked men inside, she says, “Heavenly Father, give me strength.” A reference to the amount of blood a woman has menstruated is described as “biblical.”
Ria and her friends sneak into the men’s locker room, and when Ria’s friend enters, she sees many naked men. As viewers, we see the naked rears of the men. Other men are seen shirtless, and women are seen in sports bras. Lena is seen briefly in a bra, too. Someone says that she’d let Salim “womanize me every day of the week.”
In an attempt to frame Salim, Ria fills condoms with a white liquid substance to plant them in his room. A product has a crude sexual name.
We hear a reference that Lena and Salim had pre-marital sex. A girl mispronounces a word, instead making a reference to male genitalia. Ria makes a crude reference to male arousal. Ria tells Lena that she should “shag [Salim], then cut him loose.” Lena wears a dress that reveals cleavage. Lena and Salim kiss. A bully calls Ria and her friends “virgins.” We hear a wedding officiant say that marriage is between “two people,” rather than a man and a woman.
We hear multiple references to menstruation.
Hand-to-hand combat has a silly, slapstick feel to it, despite some moments of fighting that are quite intense.
Characters are kicked in the head, punched, thrown into glass cabinets, knocked through doors, etc. One has her face burned with a hair straightener. Someone’s arm is bitten by another, and we see the resulting marks. And while we see a bit of blood resulting from such interactions, the characters typically don’t seem to take much notice of their injuries.
As mentioned above, Ria frequently practices a difficult swirling kick, but she’s unsuccessful and falls to the ground each time.
Elsewhere, though, things occasionally take a more ominous turn. A character is choked and punched in the face, and we see resulting cuts and bruises. We also see someone who struggles to get up after being choked. Another character struggles against kidnappers trying to chloroform her. Someone fires a gun.
We see what look like puppies suspended in a strange lab device.
[Spoiler Warning] Ria is tortured when her legs are waxed against her will, and her captor maliciously threatens to wax her “bikini area” next. We also learn that some women have been drugged in order to perform intrusive experiments upon them: Their reproductive systems have been fully mapped out (and are seen in holograms) without their knowledge, with details such as “uterine strength” and “fertility.” We hear many references to using these findings to “inseminate” a woman.
The f-word is used once, and there’s an additional use of “effing.” About 25 s-words. We also hear “d–k” four times. “A–,” “b–ch,” “h—,” “p-ss,” “b–tard,” “pr-ck,” “t-ts” and “crap” are all used a handful of times, too. Someone is called a “ho.” There’s also a spattering of British profanities, such as “bollocks,” “bloody,” “wanker” and “slag.” Characters also frequently use crude slang references to the male anatomy.
Lena smokes a joint. People drink wine and other alcohol.
Ria mocks her bully by telling her that her dad doesn’t love her. Ria rants against men, claiming they destroy everything.
[Spoiler Warning] We eventually discover that Salim is, in fact, a bad guy. And here’s what’s motivating him. Salim’s mom is upset because she never got to live the perfect life growing up—she was married off by her father almost immediately upon coming of age. Salim is using his geneticist skills to find a perfect woman who would be able to host a clone of his mom so she can live the perfect life she always wanted. The mom is the mastermind behind it all, and Salim is the one who can carry it out.
Polite Society is cheesy, and it embraces that fact cinematic identity. Humorous-but-intense slapstick fight scenes, silly editing and not-so-subtle references to other movies leaves it feeling a bit like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
But if there’s one MPA rating category that covers the broadest the content spectrum, it’s PG-13. Sometimes, viewers can leave such films being unable to place what would have elevated the movie to a teen standard. Other times, it’s so high up the content ladder that you start to wonder how certain elements didn’t constitute receiving an R rating. Polite Society falls on the more content-filled end of the PG-13 rating.
Sexual references are frequent in Polite Society. We see the bare rear ends of about a half-dozen men. Other gags are sexual in nature, whether it’s intentionally sexualized words or when a character fills condoms with a white substance. Swearing is also quite frequent. And while most of the violent content leaves characters a bit frazzled and bruised but overall no worse for wear, other instances leave characters struggling to stand.
Polite Society’s many jokes land with about as much frequency as its punches and jabs. But just as the laughs come flying at you like punches, so too do the content concerns. And those will leave a mark.
Though he was born in Kansas, Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics and hermeneutics. He doesn’t think the ending of Lost was “that bad.”