×

Film Review: ‘Meet the Patels’

Geeta V. Patel and Ravi V. Patel's documentary offers a sharp, often riotously funny take on the conflicts and compromises that all culturally nebulous families must navigate.

With:
Ravi V. Patel, Champa V. Patel, Vasant K. Patel, Audrey Allison Wauchope, Geeta V. Patel. (English, Gujarati dialogue)

Meet the Patels,” a documentary directed by first-generation Indian-American siblings Geeta V. Patel and Ravi V. Patel about the latter’s attempt to find a wife through traditional Indian means, is often riotously funny. It’s also, in its own modest way, an often sharp microcosmic treatment of the conflicts and compromises that all culturally nebulous families must navigate, even if it sometimes wrings them for all they’re worth. Shot through with a breezy sort of intimacy and enlivened by sporadic animated sequences (and the filmmakers’ equally animated parents), “Meet the Patels” should be a natural fit for fests — it won an audience award at the Los Angeles Film Festival — and it wouldn’t be out of the question to see indie distribs come courting.

Ravi, 29 when the film starts, is an actor living in Los Angeles with older sister Geeta (frequently heard from behind the camera, but rarely seen). He’s just broken up with his first longtime girlfriend, Audrey, a Connecticut-bred redhead whom he kept secret from his parents for two years. On his annual family trip to India, Ravi is all but buried in an avalanche of relatives asking why he has yet to tie the knot, and starts to wonder if perhaps the time-worn route of arranged (or semi-arranged) marriage isn’t worth a try.

Once back in the States, Ravi begins his search for a partner via cross-country travel, parental hookups, “bio data” (a sort of marriageability resume circulated among vast networks of relatives), Internet dating, and even a convention of fellow Patels. (The vicissitudes of the Patel moniker, a wildly common and culturally specific surname from India’s Gujarat state, are so complex that even Ravi seems confused by them at times.) Egged on by his sister — who, we gradually learn, is dealing with many of the same pressures — Ravi’s dates fall flat again and again. (The pic certainly stays on topic, though after a while one starts to wonder if this family talks about anything other than marriage.)

On paper, this all sounds like a potentially Morgan Spurlock-esque stunt, and a few scenes do lean in that direction. However, Ravi usually seems quite sincere, speaking eloquently about his desire to provide his future progeny with the same happy Indian-American childhood he experienced. He’s enough of an American kid to recognize how foreign the protocols of arranged marriage must look to his non-Indian friends, and the film does hesitantly address the latent racism behind some of these protocols (Ravi’s “wheatish brown complexion” is apparently an important quality). But when he looks at his parents, still happily married 35 years after their arranged coupling, he sees the work of a system that can’t be so flippantly dismissed.

More than just models of matrimony, Ravi’s parents Champa and Vasant very quickly become the stars of the show. Blessed with reserves of sharp one-liners and quips, the elder Patels often seem one rehearsal away from launching a comedy act in whatever the West Indian equivalent of the Catskills circuit is. Yet thanks to the all-in-the-family production situation — most of the film’s scenes were apparently shot with zero non-Patels present — they rarely appear to be playing to the camera; nor do they hesitate to reveal some unattractive cultural hangups.

The film’s technical quality can be rough, and Ravi acknowledges as much early on, noting that the next 88 minutes will contain “footage that’s out of focus, poorly framed, and often has a microphone in the upper right-hand corner.” But even for a film that started life as an actual homemovie, it’s never too much of an obstacle. Interstitial animated elements —particularly Ravi’s direct-to-camera interview segments, which might have been distractingly “Real World”-like as live-action — add some welcome visual flair.

Film Review: 'Meet the Patels'

Reviewed online, Los Angeles, July 15, 2014. (In Los Angeles Film Festival — competing; Hot Docs Film Festival.) Running time: 88 MIN.

Production: (Documentary — U.S.-India) A Four in a Billion Pictures presentation of an ITVS co-production in association with Impact Partners, Tribeca Film Institute, Center for Asian American Media, Whitewater Films, Chicken and Egg Pictures, Hartley Film Foundation. Produced by Janet Eckholm, Geeta V. Patel. Executive producers, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Dan Cogan, Vijay Vaidyanathan.

Crew: Directed by Geeta V. Patel, Ravi V. Patel. Written by Geeta V. Patel, Ravi V. Patel, Billy McMillin, Matt Hamachek. Camera (color, DV), Geeta V. Patel; editors, McMillin, Hamachek, Geeta V. Patel, Ravi V. Patel; music supervisor, Brooke Wentz; sound designer/re-recording mixer, Joe Milner.

With: Ravi V. Patel, Champa V. Patel, Vasant K. Patel, Audrey Allison Wauchope, Geeta V. Patel. (English, Gujarati dialogue)

More Film

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: 'Us' on Track for Second-Highest Debut of 2019 With $67 Million

    Jordan Peele’s “Us” is on its way to scaring up one of the biggest debuts of 2019, with an estimated $67 million from 3,741 North American locations. Should estimates hold, “Us” will be able to claim several milestones: the highest debut for an original horror movie (the biggest launch for any horror pic goes to [...]

  • 'The Dirt' Review: A Mötley Crüe

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

  • Zac Efron Amanda Seyfried

    Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried Join Animated Scooby-Doo Film as Fred and Daphne

    Zac Efron has signed on to voice Fred Jones while Amanda Seyfried will voice Daphne Blake in Warner Bros.’ animated Scooby-Doo feature film “Scoob.” It was revealed earlier this month that Will Forte had been set to voice Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, while Gina Rodriguez would be voicing Velma Dinkley. The mystery-solving teens and their talking [...]

  • 'Staff Only' Review: Cultures And Values

    Film Review: 'Staff Only'

    Marta (Elena Andrada) is 17, from Barcelona and alternately bored and mortified to be on a Christmas vacation to Senegal with her estranged dad, Manel (Sergi López), and annoying little brother, Bruno (Ian Samsó). For her, the freedoms of imminent adulthood, such as the occasional poolside mojito, are tantalizing close but still technically forbidden, rather [...]

  • Rocketman

    Candid 'Rocketman' Dares to Show Elton John as 'Vulnerable,' 'Damaged,' 'Ugly'

    Elton John movie “Rocketman” dares to portray the singer’s personality early in his career to have been, at times, “ugly,” Taron Egerton – who plays the pop star – told an audience at London’s Abbey Road Studios Friday, following a screening of 15 minutes of footage from the film. It is a candid portrayal, showing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content