A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
The documentary “Meet the Patels” bills itself as a real-life romantic comedy. It embraces this notion by interspersing its subject’s quest for love with clips from successful examples of the rom-com genre. For this is the story of a man out to find a soulmate, and the film dramatically hinges on the outcome. While his camera-wielding sister films his quest, he is aided and abetted by his parents in scenes that all but guarantee a Hollywood remake. They can even get this film’s subject, actor-director Ravi Patel, to play himself.
Ravi’s older sister, Geeta, directs “Meet the Patels” with a tone of mischief recognizable to anyone who has a sibling. You can hear her laughing behind the camera at Ravi’s mistakes, and at one point she calls him an idiot with a mixture of love and disdain. She keeps Ravi’s biggest secret from her parents (but not from us). When he goes off on tangents, Geeta brings him back to the topic at hand. And though very supportive, she never lets him off the hook. She even pulls an older sibling’s “for your own good” move that is the film’s strongest moment: The documentarian in her overrides her brother’s reasonable request to shut the camera off. She shuts it off, but sneakily turns it back on, capturing a moment of high drama.
This probably sounds like someone’s home movies—Ravi jokes about this by pointing out the occasionally present boom mike and the shaky framing of some scenes—but “Meet the Patels” is about more than Geeta’s family. It tells a culturally specific story about love and marriage. Additionally, it speaks to the generational struggles over tradition and societal expectations, highlighting that children often have different ideas about life than their parents. These are universal subjects, so one does not have to be of Indian descent to appreciate “Meet the Patels.” You’ll either learn something new or nod your head with amused familiarity.
Geeta and Ravi are the unmarried children of Vasant and Champa Patel. Their single status is of concern to their father and a major point of ironic aggravation for their Mom. Mrs. Patel, who steals this movie from her son, has an unmatched reputation as a matchmaker, yet like a psychic she can’t use her powers for her own benefit. On a trip back to the area from which his parents emigrated, the question of marriage is on everyone’s mind. People already know of Ravi’s marital status, and every other person then tries to hook him up. “Think of that annoying relative who is always up in your business,” Ravi says. “Now imagine an entire village full of that person.”