Movie Review: Meet the Patels (2014)

MeetThePatels3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Meet the Patels takes a hilarious look inside one family as the parents try to achieve their dream: getting their kids married.

The documentary starts humbly enough, with filmmaker Geeta Patel testing out a new camera during her family’s annual trip to India. Her younger brother, actor Ravi, is recovering from a breakup with a white woman he’d never told his parents about.

With his thirtieth birthday on the horizon, Ravi decides that maybe all of his relatives are on to something: it’s time for him to get hitched. He agrees to let his parents find his dates for him, drawing him into the vast web of Indian-American matchmaking services.

For anyone who hasn’t experienced said matchmaking, Meet the Patels is an eye-opener. The scale of Indian-American matrimonial infrastructure is immense. Beyond his own family’s network of relatives and acquaintances, Ravi finds his dates though a variety of specially targeted dating sites. His ultimate destination is a national convention just for single people named Patel.

As Ravi crisscrosses the country looking for his ideal woman — she must live in America, and she must like him — it forces both him and Geeta (who is also single) to examine their assumptions about marriage. Are their imagined versions of their future spouses the only possible versions, or should they be looking elsewhere? How do they reconcile their internal cultural conflicts as first-generation Indian-Americans?

Their parents — dad Vasant and mom Champa — face their own sort of reckoning. Why aren’t their kids married yet, when everyone else’s children are married and having kids of their own? They love their unconventional kids, but Champa feels as though she and Vasant must have erred in raising them, otherwise she’d be a grandmother already.

The hook to Meet the Patels is the loving relationship that the family shares. All four of them are funny and opinionated. Ravi and Geeta like each other well enough to live together. The Patels are an endearing bunch, struggling through the ubiquitous contemporary American problem of young people putting off the traditional markers of adulthood for as long as possible.

Watching the film, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between the Patels and my own family. Like Geeta, I’m the elder sister to one younger brother, who is as much a best friend as he is a sibling. We were raised by parents as devoted to one another as they were to us.

Yet I recognized the piercing familiar tone of maternal guilt when Champa complains to Geeta about Geeta’s unmarried state: “I hope you never go through what we are going through.”

Champa sounds exactly like my mom, who — upon my speculation that I might never marry — asked, “So you’re just going to live in sin, eh?” I did get married, to my mother’s relief, but my husband and I decided not to have kids. This then prompted my mother to declare in front of all the relatives at my cousin’s baby shower that she was okay with this because, “Kathy would be a bad mother.” (To be fair, she was probably right!)

Apparently, Gujarati parental guilt and Catholic parental guilt are two sides of the same coin.

Few documentaries are as funny and accessible as Meet the Patels. It’s a real treat to get an honest look inside an adorable American family. This is a must watch.


22 thoughts on “Movie Review: Meet the Patels (2014)

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  6. Yash

    My wife and I (immigrated in 1983) watched “Meet the Patels” last night with our (US born) daughter (in her 20’s). We all liked it a lot and thought it was entertaining and at the same time highlighted a problem (or challenge if you will) that the 1st generation immigrant community faces when trying to straddle both the worlds. Nowadays , I rarely come across anyone who tries to “match” someone born in the US with someone born and brought up in India. There is critical mass here such that you could find another Indian right here in the US (if you are looking for an ‘arranged’ match, of course)!

    Overall it was funny and the initial non-professional-like camera-work was not too distracting. The animation was very effective in bridging the gaps and was used skillfully!
    There were a few Caucasians in the theater and at least a couple of them were expecting a feature film and not a documentary!

    Now every Indian with home video footage is going to start making full length documentaries – if not for commercial release but at least to bore the guests/captive audiences at their parties! (-: (-:

    1. Kathy

      “Now every Indian with home video footage is going to start making full length documentaries” — too funny, Yash! Glad you enjoyed the movie. I’d love to hear more about what your daughter thought about it. Did she find it purely funny, or was it a bit of a warning, too — this is what awaits you if you are still single at 30? 🙂

      1. Yash

        Kathy – Here’s my daughter’s review..

        “I thought the movie was funny and relatable in many ways- not that I could personally relate to attending dating conventions or flying across the country to go on blind dates, but the general theme of being an Indian-American and wanting the best of both worlds- wanting to marry someone who understands your Indian culture and family, but also wanting to get to know someone well instead of just marrying based on “biodata.” I thought they did a great job of showing the pros and cons of both systems, including the laughably absurd parts, without mocking or insulting any person or group too much. The family shown made me laugh and relate in a way that I did not expect this movie to do, and I think most Indian-Americans from my generation who watch this movie would feel the same way. Regarding the question about whether this movie was a warning, I’d say not really because: 1) I don’t think that being introduced to people by my parents would be so bad, 2) it wouldn’t be such a large-scale and dramatic ordeal if it did happen (my parents would never fund me to go on cross-country dates!), and 3) I’m pretty confident I won’t be single by the time I’m 30, haha.”

            1. Kathy

              Thanks for the link, Yash! I’m looking forward to seeing The Big Short, since Michael Lewis is one of my favorite authors. Have a great 2016!

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