Meet The Patels Approaches Arranged Marriages With Charm. But It Ultimately Fears Commitment.
Meet The Patels.
Directors: Ravi and Geeta Patel.
Opening at: Angelika.
Interracial dating can be tricky.
I know this because I've pretty much always been in interracial relationships myself. There can be some religious and cultural frictions that add to the overall awkwardness that can be dating.
But coming from a culture that thrives on arranged marriages is another thing entirely — especially for someone that grew up in the 'States, where dating. That's the main conflict for our protagonist, Ravi Patel, in the new documentary Meet The Patels. Billed as an Indian-American, real-life version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the film is a terribly uneven, if surprisingly witty, look at the Indian matchmaking culture as experienced by a first-generation American. Co-directed by Patel's sister Geeta, we follow Ravi for a year as he allows his parents to set him up with various women.
The documentary is very light and humorous in tone, using a mix of animation, documentary footage and storyboards. But the issues that it's tackling are pretty heavy. And that can be a little disorienting.
Maybe reality TV and Morgan Spurlock documentaries are to blame for that. It's through similar methods that we get to know these siblings at the center of the film's parents, who are in love, in a happy marriage and hopeful that they can help find the same for their kids. The way the parents go about this can either be gratingly-single minded or culturally dissonant; about 75 percent of the dialogue we see from them has to to do with getting their kids — but mostly Ravi — married.
Ravi's reluctant. At the beginning of the movie , we come to find out that he;s just coming out of a two-year relationship with a redhead Caucasian named Aubrey. He kept the relationship a secret from his parents because he thought they would
disapprove, and he eventually broke it off because he didn't want to lie to them.
Here's where things gets a little dicey, as there's some inherent racism at play. As lovely and likable as Ravi's parents are — they put on a charity event in their village back in India — the big conflict here is that they do not want Ravi marrying a white woman. Another young Indian interviewed in the film sums up this generational gap well enough: “My grandma is the most racist person I know — but she's also the nicest.”
On the flip side, the movie does show just how happy arranged marriages can be. Crazy as the process sounds to most Americans, there's generation upon generation of proof that it's an effective model. And the insight this film gives to that process is interesting. We get a peek at the intense matchmaking culture back in India, where everyone (including total strangers) wants to match their offspring. In America, that's sometimes distilled into what are essentially marriage conventions.
Despite these informative nuggets, the overall pacing of Meet The Patels just feels off. The majority part of the movie deals with Ravi making a deal with his parents — that he's going to find a wife or at least a girlfriend within a year's time, without having to have an arranged marriage. There should be some great material here for either poignancy or comedy, but thanks to what one imagines is the lack of authorization from the women involved, these sequences all add up to nothing but montages, which make the movie somehow feel twice as long as its 90-minute run time.
The movie just in general feels very messy. It meanders too much. Is it a critique of the old way of matchmaking? Is it a celebration of American-style dating? Is it a personal story of figuring out what makes an individual happy? It tries to be all of these things, but it doesn't really do any of them well.
Too bad. As I said: I know firsthand how much material there is to be gleaned from the awkwardness that can sometimes arise in interracial relationships. This movie, unfortunately, just doesn't know what to do with all those moving parts.