Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Documentary, Comedy
Run Time: 1 hours, 28 minutes, Rated PG
Starring: Ravi Patel, Geeta Patel
Directed by Ravi Patel, Geeta Patel (directorial debuts)
Love is a many splendor thing, and in the documentary Meet the Patels (opening today), it is both complicated and hilarious.
Comedian Ravi Patel sets out to examine love, Indian-American-style. Now hovering around the 30-year-old mark, Ravi has just ended a two-year relationship with a girl that he actually really liked, even though he hid her existence from his culturally conservative parents. In Indian culture (and in many cultures) going unmarried for so long brings with it many negative connotations, so Ravi gives up on his more modern approach to finding love, and submits to his parent's way of doing things. For those not in the know on Indian culture, Ravi's journey in the film is a fascinating one. And even for those that do know, this Patel family is fascinating to follow right from the get-go.
Everyone knows that America has - maybe until recently - long been proud of its immigrant background, boasted for decades as being a "mixing pot" of cultures from all over the world. What many fail to realize however, is that even in today's world, old traditions are still being upheld right here, tucked beneath the surface of mainstream ideology. For example, did you know that in Indian-American culture, it is not uncommon for parents to create what amounts to a "resume" of their children, that they then present, like trading cards, to others in their community, looking for good matches? Ravi's parents met for ten minutes before marrying, and they swear by the process, still married several decades later and happier than ever. Although the idea of an "arranged" marriage seems like ancient history to most modern Americans, this is still a belief held high by several millions of people.
Equipping his unskilled sister Geeta with a camera (and apologizing right off the bat for what will amount to a film made entirely of amateur footage) and traveling with his incredibly funny conservative parents, Ravi allows himself to go through the "selection" process as dictated by his parents. He goes on arranged dates, and when that doesn't work, they turn to online dating. He ends up at a Patel convention (watch the film), where un-related (we hope) Patels meet with hopes of match-making.
The universal and simple premise - that parents want the best for their children, that they want their older children out of the house, and that they want grand-babies - is the accessible hook that makes Meet the Patels a joy to experience. It's also quite interesting to see the inner-workings of a culture right here in America, with practices and beliefs that many non-Indian-Americans might not even realize existed. But beneath the comedy and the schtick that Ravi and Geeta Patel create along the way, there are some heavy topics at play here as well.
Cultures clash, romance in the 21st century is examined and debated, and the idea of American assimilation is explored. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable film that feels light and heavy all at once.
Meet the Patels may or may not find what it sets out to, but it does a great job of engaging viewers in ways few documentaries have.
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