Poking fun at cultural differences and the generation gap seems like an easy way to get a laugh, and maybe it is. Fortunately, it works in Meet the Patels, a genuinely funny documentary of one man’s search for love that becomes a family project. After breaking up with his Caucasian girlfriend of two years– a girlfriend he never mentioned to his immigrant parents– L.A. based comic Ravi Patel decides to try the traditional Indian system of hooking up: letting the parents arrange it. Why not? It worked for them, and his mother is known for her matchmaking skills.
Although we don’t see much of sister Geeta as she records everything, her presence is pervasive: she’s off-camera laughing mischievously, goading her brother and chiding him when he vacillates on dating matters. The real stars, however, are Patel’s parents, father Vasant and mother Champa, who fret endlessly over the fact that their children are approaching their thirties and are STILL single, as though this qualifies them as town lepers. Vasant goes so far as to declare, in all seriousness, that not getting married makes one “the biggest loser you can be.” They quickly put together Ravi’s “biodata,” which essentially is a dating resume, and forward biodatas of potential matches to him. They take him to weddings and give him pep talks. They send him all over the States to meet Indian girls. The results are amusing and illuminating. For example, I didn’t know “wheatish brown” is a thing to look for in a mate. I never heard that some skin tones and geographical areas are more desirable than others. I had no idea that many Patels prefer to marry other Patels.
Ravi’s deadpan “OMG” delivery is consistently fun, and animated bits interspersed throughout the film keep the mood light. In the end, it’s clear that no matter how disparate certain views may be, parents and their children can find a middle ground, adapt, and find happiness together. Meet the Patels is warm, relatable, and something pretty much anyone will find entertaining. I laughed a lot.
(Gene Siskel Film Center) B