'Meet the Patels': Film Review

A crowd-pleaser.

Geeta and Ravi Patel's documentary chronicles the latter's efforts to find an Indian bride with the help of his matchmaking parents.

If you think your love life is complicated, check out poor Ravi Patel's, as illustrated in the documentary co-directed by him and his sister, Geeta. Chronicling the desperate efforts of the then-29-year-old actor to find a suitable Indian bride, Meet the Patels is home-movie-style filmmaking at its most boisterously entertaining.

The film begins with Ravi recently having broken up with his girlfriend of two years, Audrey, a vivacious redhead from Connecticut whom he's kept a secret from his parents because she's not Indian. Comparing himself to the lead character in Eat Pray Love — except that he's accompanied by his relatives — he travels to India on their annual family vacation, primarily with the intention of finding a mate.

The hunt involves seeking not simply an Indian woman, but one whose family name is also Patel. Not to worry, we're assured: Incest isn't involved. Rather, the name refers to the inhabitants of a particular region of the country.

And so begins a laborious process that includes, besides such usual tactics as internet dating, an elaborate series of matchmaking efforts by his mother, Champa, which require Ravi to fly across the country for 13 dates in as many cities. A "biodata," a sort of romantic résumé, is circulated widely throughout the Indian community, and Ravi even attends a "Patel Matrimonial Convention," which is about as wacky as it sounds.

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The saga is presented via shaky, handheld camerawork from the mostly unseen but frequently heard-from sister, Geeta; equally unsteady editing; crude animation; and clips from vintage home movies. Despite the unique ethnic slant, many of the themes are familiar, but they come across freshly here, thanks to Ravi's engaging, self-deprecating personality and the comical antics of his parents, who seem to be auditioning for their own reality television show.

There's an inevitable air of self-indulgence to the proceedings, and such scenes as the blind dates conducted while the camera rolls smack more of artifice than realism. And if you can't see the ending coming a mile away, you clearly haven't seen enough of these types of films. But despite its crude technical aspects, Meet the Patels has a winning quality that makes its central figure's romantic plight all too sadly relatable, even for those who don't have to contend with issues of ethnic heritage and old-world parents.

Production: Four in a Billion Pictures
Directors: Geeta Patel, Ravi Patel
Screenwriters: Geeta Patel, Ravi Patel, Billy McMillin, Matthew Hamachek
Producers: Janet Fries Eckholm, Geeta Patel
Executive producers: Geralyn White Dreyfous, Dan Cogan, Vijay Vaidyanathan, Vasant K. Patel, Niraj Bhatia
Director of photography: Geeta Patel
Editors: Billy McMillin, Matthew Hamachek, Geeta Patel, Ravi Patel, Dhevi Natarajan

PG, 88 minutes